Every winter during flu season thousands of people around the country catch the cold or flu.
Generally if you’re fit and healthy, you can manage the symptoms of a cold or flu at home without needing to see a doctor – anyone can catch flu, but those over age 65 are vulnerable to complications that could result in hospitalisation.
We’re exposed to cold and flu germs every day, most of the time without knowing it; taking public transport, shaking hands with a colleague and meeting friends for dinner are just a handful of the simple ways we can make ourselves vulnerable to cold and flu.
While you can never fully protect yourself from catching a cold or flu, there are things you can do to stay fighting fit – here’s our best tips to get you through.
Preventing cold and flu
- Look after yourself – First, some myths: many people believe common remedies like vitamin C, Echinacea and zinc can guard against symptoms of cold and flu, but in reality there’s little or no scientific evidence to back that up. However, looking after your general health is one of the simplest ways to help your body ward off attack. A healthy diet, regular exercises and plenty of sleep can all help you feel your best and bounce back quicker if you do happen to feel poorly.
- Get the flu shot – The flu vaccine is the quickest, most efficient way to guard against catching the flu during flu season. Each year the vaccine contained an inactivated strain of the flu to help your body fight it off. It’s not a 100% guarantee you won’t get the flu, but if you do it’s likely to be milder than if you didn’t have the jab at all. The NHS particularly encourages older people over the age of 65 to get the flu vaccine – it’s given free at your GP surgery and local pharmacy.
- Wash hands regularly – Regular hand washing will help you rid viruses from your skin. Scrub the back of your hands, between fingers and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. On the go, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser will also kill cold and flu germs. You can buy a small bottle for as little as a pound to use when you travel and use public transport.
If you do catch the cold or flu
If you find yourself with a sore throat, blocked or runny nose, a sneeze or cough, then it’s likely you’ve caught the common cold. The good news is this mild viral infection usually clears up on its own within a week or two and doesn’t need to disrupt your life for long. More severe symptoms like fever, headache, aching muscles and tiredness could mean you’ve caught the flu. In either case, here’s what to do:
- Get plenty of rest – Your body needs plenty of sleep when you catch a cold or flu, and for most people who fall victim, they have little energy to do anything else. Give yourself plenty of time to rest and recover – for most healthy adults with the flu, this will take about a week.
- Stay hydrated – Dehydration is a risk for anyone with cold or flu, particularly if you lose your appetite. Drink plenty of water and always keep a water bottle near by so you can get a drink throughout the day.
- Try Paracetamol – Paracetamol or ibuprofen works well to help relieve aches and pains and lower a temperature if you catch the flu. There are plenty of good cold medicines you can pick up from your local pharmacy over the counter to help manage cough, sore throat and runny nose. If you have any underlying health conditions, speak to your pharmacist; they can recommend the right medicine and advise what’s safe to take.
When to see the GP
Most people recover from the cold or flu quickly without ever needing to see the GP. However, there are some circumstances when a visit might be worthwhile. If symptoms persist for more than 3 weeks, call your local practice and schedule an appointment. If your symptoms are getting worse over time rather than better, it may be something else, and it’s also worth getting checked. Vulnerable groups such as older people over the age of 65 and anyone with a long-term medical condition or a weakened immune system should also speak to their GP. They may advise taking some medication to help prevent any further complications from cold or flu.
How do you stay fighting fit during cold and flu season?
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