Health and Safety: Hot tips for the long cold season

The days are getting colder. We’re digging to the bottom of our closets for insulation. There’s something lurking in the background, waiting for you to slip up and make one wrong move — like forgetting to wash your hands. You’re coughing. You’re sneezing. You’ve got chills, aches and a runny nose that is comparable to Niagara Falls. As much as you refuse to believe it, you’re sick.
There is a misconception that cold weather is what spreads sickness during winter months. In reality, it is the excessive amount of time spent indoors sharing air space with infected people.
First things first. Is it the flu or just a cold? Cold symptoms tend to stick to the upper respiratory passages, meaning a stuffy nose, sore throat, etc. But the flu comes on rapidly and produces a sick feeling all over. Flu symptoms are the same as those of a cold, except more severe, and often accompanied by a fever and muscle aches, as well as harsher coughing. The American Lung Association says that if taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms, prescription medications can reduce the amount of time flu-stricken people are sick.
As for the common cold, doctors recommend basic treatments like plenty of rest and fluids. Over-the-counter medication can temporarily relieve symptoms. If over-the-counter medicine isn’t your style, perhaps take a look into writings such as The Herbal Drugstore, by Linda B. White, M.D., and Steven Foster. White claims that herbal remedies are scientifically proven to have better results than typical cold medications. While many drugs create unwanted side effects for the already-suffering cold victims, White says that herbal remedies rarely cause adverse effects.
Among the top of her alternative choices is echinacea, a small plant that is believed to prevent colds and the flu. The book claims that it is the best-researched herb for helping the body fight colds and the flu once they’ve begun to invade. If taken as soon as symptoms appear, it is said that echinacea can shorten the duration and lessen the severity of symptoms.
Prevention is key. Of course, basics such as avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing your hands often and covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough are all extremely important. Vitamin C and zinc have been heavily researched and supported for use during a cold or flu. Many studies have found that taking Vitamin C regularly can lower the number of colds you experience in a year, and most found that Vitamin C led to a shorter duration of the cold by about a third. In studies, people with colds who took zinc lozenges every two hours got better faster. Although zinc leaves a funky aftertaste, one might agree that reducing the length of a cold would be well worth it. The lozenges are available without a prescription at most drugstores.
Keeping your belongings disinfected can do a great deal when it comes to prevention. Items such as cell phones, car keys, study desks and door handles come in contact with many germs throughout the day. Those nasty little rhinoviruses that cause colds can live up to three hours on surfaces, according to the National Institute of Health, so keeping surfaces clean is a smart move. One of the most important tips is, if you’ve just gotten sick, don’t go to class or the gym. Chances are you will only end up spreading the illness.

Amanda Sandlin is a junior journalism major.

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