Coughing, sneezing, sore throat, fever, body aches and an upset stomach all come with the territory during cold and flu season.
Avoiding germs and adopting daily habits that can keep you from getting sick are great in practice, but no matter what, it’s likely that you or someone in your household will still end up sick at some point given flu season can last into May.
So, what can you do?
“The number one best way to protect yourself against the flu is to get vaccinated,” said Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist in the influenza division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you do end up sick, Brammer said there are several prescription antiviral drugs that can be effective if given within the first 48 hours.
It also helps to be prepared. Stocking up on these essentials before you get sick will allow you to focus on resting and getting well, instead of having to go out after it’s too late.
Paper towels or napkins might work short term, but it won’t take long for your nose to become raw and red from repeated blowing. Keeping an extra box of tissues on standby, especially ones containing lotion or aloe, can help minimize chafing and soreness when you start to sneeze.
Fever, headache and muscle pain can substantially increase the overall misery of being sick. Having a pain reliever like acetaminophen or an NSAID (ibuprofen or naproxen) in your medicine cabinet can help relieve some of the worst symptoms. If you suffer from a medical condition, ask your doctor which one is best for you.
Often the difference between a cold and the flu is a fever. To determine if you’re running a temperature, you’ll need a thermometer. There are several kinds to choose from including digital, ear and forehead. Mercury thermometers encased in glass are no longer recommended and should be disposed of via hazardous waste collection.
When you’re down and out, nothing is more comforting than a cup of your favorite home-cooked soup. But since that’s not always possible, canned chicken soup works fine in a pinch. Though it won’t cure your cold, warm liquids like soup can help provide relief by opening up a congested nose or throat.
Though the jury is still out on the efficacy of zinc reducing cold symptoms, several studies, including ones from the Journal of Family Practice, suggest that taking zinc lozenges or syrup can shorten a cold by one day when taken within the first 24 hours of onset. Taken in large quantities, the mineral can have adverse side effects, so ask your doctor before adding it to your medicine cabinet.
Warming up with a heating pad can help combat the chills and aching muscles that often accompany the flu, even in the coldest cities in the world. Not only is it soothing, but a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that a warmer body temperature can help fight the cold virus quicker.
Staying hydrated is essential to maintaining overall wellness. It’s even more important to drink fluids during an illness, especially for older adults and children who tend to become dehydrated easily. Whether it’s respiratory or stomach related, Pedialyte or Gatorade can be effective in restoring electrolytes and treating dehydration.
First, it’s the sniffles, then comes the sore throat and, finally, that nagging cough. Keeping a bag of cough drops in the cupboard can save you a trip to the store when the last thing you want to do is go out. While one study by The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine suggests that cough drops may prolong a cough, used sparingly, they can be helpful in soothing a dry or irritated throat.
Many studies, including one by the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, suggest that when it comes to an upset stomach, ginger can help alleviate nausea and vomiting. While ginger ale is a common go-to, many brands don’t contain real ginger and can be high in sugar. Instead, peel a small amount of fresh ginger root and mix it with warm water or try one of these other drinks good for fighting the flu.
Running a cool-mist humidifier can help ease chest and nose congestion by adding moisture to the air while providing relief for your dry skin at the same time. Research shows that, in some cases, higher levels of humidity can also help prevent the transmission of the flu. When running a humidifier, be sure to keep it clean. Dirty reservoirs and filters can produce bacteria and mold.
Once someone is sick, it’s only a matter of time before it’s passed to other members of the household. Disinfecting surfaces and objects can help remove germs, limiting the spread of viruses and infection.
To calm a raw throat or quiet a cough, try mixing honey with warm water. In a study published by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, honey has been shown to be as effective as over-the-counter medications in helping to suppress coughs. Due to a risk of botulism, honey shouldn’t be given to infants under the age of 1.
Appetite loss is common with the stomach bug and respiratory flu. When you just don’t feel like eating, try snacking on a few saltine crackers. Bland and starchy, they can help soak up extra acid in your stomach and prevent more from being released. Because they contain sodium, saltines can also help replace lost electrolytes.
While drinking hot tea isn’t a magic fix, studies show that hot beverages can help ease some of the flu’s most common symptoms including runny nose, cough, sneezing and sore throat. Tea, especially green tea, also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and helps promote overall good health.
You tried to steal habits from all your healthy friends, but you still got sick. There’s not much you can do now other than get enough sleep and wait it out. Certain over-the-counter cough and cold medications can provide temporary relief of nasal congestion and coughs, especially when you’re unable to stay home or miss work. Some studies suggest that cough and cold medications can have serious side effects in children under 12. Parents should speak with their child’s pediatrician before administering.
When your nose is plugged and blowing just isn’t cutting it, give your schnoz some love by using a neti pot or saline drops, which can help clear out the sinuses and make breathing easier. Whether you’re using a neti pot or making your own saline solution, make sure to use only distilled water, which is sterilized.
Having your healthcare provider’s contact information readily available is important, especially if your illness turns into something more serious like pneumonia. If you don’t have a primary care physician, identify a local walk-in or urgent care clinic in the event you need to seek medical care. A doctor can also help determine whether you’re suffering from a cold or the flu. Here is how to initially tell if your sniffles are more than a cold.
More from The Active Times