How do you avoid getting colds? Even as public health authorities concern themselves with Covid-19 and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), that’s a common question.
Garden-variety viral upper respiratory infections (URIs) lead people to seek medical help more than 25 million times a year with costs that top $22 billion. Most adults catch two or three colds a year. Kids, with their developing immune systems, get an average of eight colds annually.
5 Ways to Keep Your Upper Respiratory Tract Healthy
Of course, there is no way to guarantee you won’t catch a cold. However, there are things you can do to help protect yourself.
Follow Good Hygiene and Cleanliness Practices
It makes sense to begin your anti-infection efforts with good hygiene.
Try to always sneeze into a tissue that should be thrown away before you wash your hands thoroughly. (Don’t have a tissue? Sneeze into the crook of your arm.)
For handwashing, “the magic timing is 30 seconds,” says the team atTeladoc Health. “Sing “Happy Birthday” in your head while circulating hot, soapy water over your hands up to your wrists and under your fingernails.” Afterwards, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
You should also keep countertops in the bathroom and kitchen clean, especially if someone in the house has a cold. (If a family member is ill, wash toys before and after your child plays with them.) Also clean often-handled surfaces like doorknobs, remotes and cell phones; don’t forget your computer keyboard and mouse (including the mouse pad).
Because dry indoor air promotes the spread of viruses, use a humidifier. Putting moisture in the air can be especially helpful if you experience breathing problems at night whether you have a cold or not.
Eat Properly and Get Regular Exercise
Like the rest of your body, your immune system’s health depends on what you feed it. As the Veterans Administration’shealthcare division notes, “Nutrition may be the single most important factor in optimizing immune function.”
Eating plenty of fresh produce and whole grains is a good start to a healthy diet; gohere for foods that are especially helpful in immune support. Filtered water and green tea are your best hydration options.
Staying fit also helpsbolster your defenses. According to the VA, “moderate amounts of regular exercise improve immune function and decrease the risk of developing a URI.” (Just don’t overdo it, since prolonged intense exercise has been linked to increased URI risk.) Try for 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week at, in the VA’s words, “an intensity that allows talking but not singing.”
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep doesn’t just do wonders for your energy levels and your mood—it improves immunity as well.
“Studies have shown that sleep deprivation leads to decreased immune function, leading to increased frequency of infections,” says the VA. “In contrast, sleep strengthens the immune response.”
You should get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night; if you’re having issues with sleeplessness, gohere.
Work on Your Mental and Spiritual Wellness…
The connections between mental well-being and physical health, including immune health, can be profound.
The VA notes that both mindfulness meditation, which “fosters an ability to take a step back and notice our reactions to external stimuli,” and guided imagery, which provides “guidance to encourage patients to find solutions to problems by exploring their existing inner resources,” have been linked to reductions in URI symptoms.Yoga may also help.
Likewise, the VA notes that people who enjoy a rich spiritual life appear to also enjoy more robust immune function.
Mental and spiritual wellness both help protect you against the effects of stress, a known factor in lowered immunity. Gohere to learn more.
…and That Includes Maintaining Strong Relationships
One way to support your mental health involves having close ties with family and friends. According to the VA, “Studies have found that more negative or hostile behaviors during discussions focused on conflict, marital disruption or the chronic stress of caring for a relative with Alzheimer's disease can suppress immune function.”
Gohere for ways to stay close to the ones you love.
Home Care for Upper Respiratory Infections
Most URIs are viral in nature, so antibiotics aren’t going to help (and may actually cause harm by leading to antibiotic resistance). A cold just has to run its course.
Here are ways to ease your symptoms courtesy of theMayo Clinic:
- Stay home and rest. (As Teladoc Health puts it, “you can protect your co-workers—and possibly recover faster—if you take a day or two away from the office to focus on getting well.”)
- Stay hydrated with water, juice or clear broth. Alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas can make dehydration worse.
- Drink warm tea or lemon water to help loosen congestion. Honey may help coughs in adults and children age 1 or older.
- Use a saltwater gargle, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water, to temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat. Ice chips, lozenges or hard candy may also help, especially in children too young to gargle; make sure they can’t choke on what you give them.
- You can use a steam inhaler or try letting the water run hot after you finish showering and then breathing in the steam.
- Keep the bedroom warm but not overheated and add a humidifier if needed (kept clean to prevent microbial growth).
- Nasal irrigation using a neti pot filled with saline solution works for many people. Always use warm, filtered water.
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