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Cold season myths, truths and tips

December 09, 2019

If it seems like there are more people with runny noses, coughs and other cold symptoms during the winter, you’re not imagining things. Baystate Health nurse practitioner Jeffrey Hammond of Baystate Primary Care - Longmeadow explains that viruses (like cold and flu viruses) spread more quickly indoors. In other words, all that time staying inside where it’s warm means a higher chance of catching a cold.

COLD MYTHS AND TRUTHS

Watch the video for answers to common questions about colds such as:

  • Can you catch a cold by going outdoors without a coat in the winter?
  • Can Vitamin C help you get over a cold more quickly?
  • Will antibiotics cure a cold?
  • Can sleep affect your chances of getting sick?

HOW TO PREVENT A COLD

Getting through the day with a runny nose, congestion, a sore throat or other cold symptoms can be miserable and exhausting. Consider these tips from Hammond and protect yourself from getting sick.

  1. Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face until you do. Our skin is the best defense against illness, Hammond says. Viruses and bacteria enter our body through areas such as our eyes, mouths, and nose.
  2. Stay active and exercise. When it’s freezing out and there’s less daylight, it’s tempting to just curl up on the couch with a big fleecy blanket. However, exercise keeps our body more resistant to illness and disease.
  3. Sleep. The body is much more prone to illness if we do not get enough sleep on a nightly basis. This is more important than many people realize, Hammond says. Eight hours a night is recommended.
  4. Take your vitamins. A once-daily-vitamin is a safe option that can help maximize our own immune function. Hammond says for children, parents should ask their pediatrician before giving their child vitamins.

HOW TO TREAT A COLD

If you already have a cold, we’re sorry to hear that. There are so many ways to catch a cold. Perhaps your child picked one up at daycare and passed it on to you. Perhaps someone in the movie theater sneezed all over you. Here are ways to feel better:

  1. Drink more water. The body uses significantly more water in all the metabolic processes when combating an illness – even the common cold. Aim for a minimum of 64 ounces of water each day.
  2. Rest and maintain a balanced diet. Choose from a broad spectrum of foods to ensure you get enough quality nutrition.
  3. Manage your symptoms safely. Doctors recommend options including acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and guaifenesin (the active ingredient in Mucinex). Follow labeled instructions. For children, use single-ingredient medicines specifically labeled for children, Hammond says. We tend not to recommend multi-ingredient cold/flu/sinus remedies for children since they often contain partial adult doses of medicine (325mg acetaminophen instead of 650mg) or aspirin, which we do not recommend to treat cold symptoms any more. Talk with your primary care provider if you have questions.
  4. Have a bowl of chicken soup. Studies show chicken soup is a good cold remedy. It breaks up congestion and offers balanced nutrition with protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates (usually noodles or rice). The sodium in the broth helps retain more fluids.

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR

At what point should someone with a cold see a primary care provider?

Call your primary care provider if you have:

  • A fever above 101 degrees that remains high despite taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen or another fever-reducing medicine
  • Episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhea and cannot keep fluids down
  • Symptoms that begin to worsen after the first 2-3 days of illness

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