Beat the Cold & Flu This Season
Here it is again, the cold and flu season when we all head indoors to share our sneezes and viruses. It’s time to get serious about preventing illness, and that means caring for our personal air filter: the nose.
Viruses are the worst seasonal offenders, and colds are the most common virus we pass around. But the influenza virus is so much worse than a cold. Most folks do not really understand the difference between these two illnesses, yet the difference can be deadly.
Influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is caused by the influenza virus. This is a specific respiratory virus quite different than the cold virus. The entire respiratory tract—including the nose, throat, and lungs—becomes infected. The illness is severe and can be life-threatening; children, the elderly, and those who have underlying medical conditions are at greatest risk for complications.
So how serious is the influenza virus? Large influenza epidemics occur almost every winter. Based on the best data we can access, each year between five percent and 20 percent of the US population will get the flu. About 200,000 will be hospitalized with complications and anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 will die from flu-related complications every year. These complications include ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia, with pneumonia being the most deadly, especially for those who are very young or very old.
Full-blown symptoms of the flu often develop suddenly. “I was fine before lunch, and then I suddenly felt horrible by 2:00. It was like I was hit by a Mack truck.” Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and severe muscle aches. Children can also have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The clinical difference between the flu and a cold is this: The flu symptoms and possible complications are much worse than the common cold. The fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough of the flu are more intense. Colds usually do not develop into pneumonia, secondary bacterial infections, or require hospitalization.
The distinction I see as a medical provider between a common cold and the flu is clear. A person with a cold will walk normally into the clinic and complain miserably about their symptoms. They may complain of a cough and tightness in their chest, but they will not be incapacitated. But someone with influenza will appear very ill, barely able to climb onto the exam table. Their entire body will be affected, every muscle feeling sore, tired, and toxic. Most patients with influenza are unable to leave their house and instead wait for several days before seeing a doctor, saying, “I was too sick to come in.”
Surprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations during flu season miss one of the most effective and safest self-care practices we should be using! While they advise us on prevention and recommend coughing into elbows (not hands), washing hands frequently, and getting flu vaccines, they are forgetting about cleaning the body’s air filter.
The nose is the primary invasion route for respiratory viruses, so here is where its job of filtering is so vitally important. Both influenza and cold viruses are spread mainly through respiratory droplets—spread by coughs and sneezes from infected people. A typical sneeze can propel up to 100,000 droplets through the air. The droplets can survive anywhere from a few seconds up to 48 hours, so it is possible to be exposed by touching a surface that was sneezed on or touched by infected hands earlier in the day.
Remembering that most viruses enter through the nose reminds us that the function of the nose as a filter is extremely important. For best prevention, the nose washing solution must be hypertonic and buffered for comfort—an isotonic solution may wash nicely but does not inactivate viruses. Keeping that filter in good working order is essential during cold and flu season, and hypertonic washing is always effective, no matter how often viruses change their shape or form.
Bottom line: Practicing good public hygiene habits, and washing your nasal filter regularly can give you the best possible protection from both the influenza and the common cold virus.
Hana R. Solomon, MD, (aka Dr. Hana) is a board-certified pediatrician and the author of Clearing The Air One Nose At A Time: Caring For Your Personal Filter. You can visit her online at nasopure.com.
Onset Gradual onset 1-3 days Sudden onset, 3-6 hours
Fever Rare or low grade Yes, high grade
Chills Uncommon Common
Cough Mild, post-nasal drip Yes
Body Aches Non or slight Severe (with muscle aches)
Fatigue None or mild Moderate to severe
Appetite Normal or mild decrease Decreased or absent
Nose Stuffy, drippy, sneezy Slightly stuffy
Headache Uncommon Common
Top Tips for Perfect Health
Keeping the cold and flu out of your house takes careful planning. Taking Dr. Hana’s advice will be the best plan of attack, but there are several other tips to keep in mind.
>> Eat healthy
No sugar. No processed foods. No overeating. Fill up on your fruits and veggies, and attempt to eat organic and free-range meats.
>> Limit alcohol consumption
The B vitamins in your liver are used up when your body processes alcohol, and it weakens the immune system since it’s fat-soluble.
>> Take your supplements
Supplements with high amounts of vitamins and minerals will provide your body the much-needed nutrients it may not be getting from food. Vitamin C alone will cut your risks of getting sick by almost 50 percent!
>> Keep hands away
Touching your mouth, eyes, and nose is common (especially when you’re told not to). But this is how a virus enters your system.
>> Wash your hands
This is a very important tip and should be done year-round. Almost 70 percent of diseases can be halted by simply washing your hands frequently.
>> Drink water
All that water flushes out toxins and helps the blood circulate freely, preventing microbe growth.
This one is another suggestion that should be done year-round. No matter what activity you do it will help deliver freshly oxygenated blood to your tissues, thereby building up your immune system.
>> Choose sleep
An average adult needs seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Your body conserves energy and restores the immune system while you’re getting your ZZZs.
>> Stress less
Stress puts out the hormone cortisol. It suppresses your immune system and decreases white blood cell production.
>> Try essential oils
For colds, use peppermint, rosemary, tea tree, and thyme. Ginger, myrrh, sandalwood, or frankincense are great for clearing up congestion as they stimulate mucus membranes.