With the winter season and lower temperatures comes the annual cold and flu outbreak. Approximately 200,000 Americans are hospitalized annually because of the flu, and thousands of people die from flu-related symptoms every year. January and February are peak months for cold and flu symptoms nationwide because people spend more time indoors, exposing them to other people in higher numbers.
Although the majority of healthy people can survive cold and flu symptoms, these illnesses can still manage to make you miserable for days or even weeks on end. Understanding the symptoms and making smart decisions this winter can keep you from suffering from the cold or flu:
Cold and Flu Prevention
Being prepared for cold and flu season will do wonders for your health this winter. Take the following steps to protect against sickness this season:
- Vaccinate. The best defense against the flu is to get your flu shot every year. Flu viruses are constantly changing, so it’s important to get a flu shot each and every year, and the earlier the better—getting your flu shot by October will give you the best chance of avoiding the flu. (Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after vaccination to develop antibodies against the flu). Getting vaccinated is most important for at-risk health groups, such as pregnant women, children under 5 years old, those with chronic health issues, and the elderly.
- Wash hands. Counters, door knobs, and other objects are lightning rods for germs. The common cold and the flu both spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, so make sure you wash your hands with soap and water as often as possible. Also, try to avoid contact with your mouth and eyes as much as you can, as touching these parts after touching a contaminated surface can easily make you sick.
- Avoid sick people. Colds and the flu thrive in large groups of people. Stay away from those you know are sick, make sure to wash your hands after being in a large group of people, and keep infants away from crowds.
- Keep a healthy lifestyle. Simple steps can have a major impact on your immune system. Make sure you eat right, get a good amount of sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid stress.
Know the Symptoms
Symptoms of the common cold come on gradually, and they can include the following: a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, coughing, a scratchy throat, watery eyes.
Symptoms of the flu come on suddenly and are generally more severe and long-lasting than those of the common cold. Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, a dry cough, body aches, fatigue, and body aches. Nausea and vomiting are also possible among younger children with the flu.
Contact a medical professional if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Cough that disrupts sleep
- Fever that won’t respond to treatment
- Shortness of breath
- Face pain caused by sinus infection
It is also important to contact a doctor if you feel better for a short time, then experience a high fever, chest pain, or difference in mucus again. If you have a sick child, be on the lookout for high fevers, unusual drowsiness, refusal to eat, excessive crying, wheezing, or holding the ears or stomach.