By Dr. Nancy Simpkins
As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, the viruses begin to multiply. Why do people get sick more often in the cool weather? The answer, although elusive, seems to be that people are inside more often and exchanging respiratory droplets through coughing and sneezing. You do not get sick by going outside in the cold weather without a hat or with a wet head. You get sick through viruses and bacteria that are shared person to person.
So how do you prevent getting sick and how do you know when you need to see a doctor?
Let’s start with prevention
The most important prevention is healthy eating, adequate sleeping, and exercise. It’s best to increase your fruits and vegetables, as the added vitamins will help to protect your immune system. Your immune system is based on your white blood cells destroying viruses and bacteria when they enter your body. The natural vitamins in fruits and vegetables help to stabilize the cell wall of the protective blood cells to avoid penetration of infection.
It has been shown time and time again by scientific studies that sleeping 6-8 hours a night is the best prevention for illness. Without adequate sleep, your immune system doesn’t have the time to repair.
How does exercise keep you healthy? Simply stated, exercise brings freshly oxygenated blood to the body and strengthens the immune system. Daily walking is an easy way to achieve your goals.
Keep It Clean
In addition, washing your hands is the key in the viral season. We all touch many surfaces, (our keyboard, the subway pole, the banister, etc) during the day. Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth, and eyes (mucus membranes that absorb viruses). As soon as you can, wash your hands with soap and water, or if not available, use hand sanitizer.
In the cold and flu season, it is important to maintain a healthy distance between you and others. When people sneeze and cough, the respiratory droplets contain bacteria and viruses and can travel approximately 6-12 inches.
Even if you do everything correctly, a cold or flu virus will sometimes get through your immune system and make you sick.
So what happens when you get sick? How do you get better quicker?
Most illnesses are viral, meaning there is no treatment except for treatment of the symptoms (runny nose, cough, etc). If you get a “cold,” treat it with fluids, extra rest, and over-the-counter medication for symptom relief. Many people believe in ginger or zinc for treatment of colds. If you have a high fever or body aches, it might be the flu, and you should see your doctor immediately.
One side note: Get a flu shot before the season gets here. Protect yourself and your family; there is no down side!
What happens if the symptoms get worse?
If you have a fever, or you have a productive cough (mucus that is coming from your head or chest), the infection might be due to a bacteria and might require antibiotics to clear the infection.
Without a fever or chills or body aches, you can safely wait a day or two to see if you are getting better or worse. Viral infections last about 5-7 days.
As the cold weather approaches, review your habits and definitely keep yourself well hydrated, eat healthy, exercise, and get your sleep. The body is not a perfect machine, and all day long viruses and bacteria are trying to penetrate the immune system. Do your best to keep yours in check, until spring returns and we are all outside again and staying healthy!
Dr. Nancy Simpkins is a Board Certified Internist and Medical Consultant for the state of New Jersey. With a practice in Livingston, NJ, Dr. Simpkins has been involved in all aspects of internal medicine, with a focus on women’s health. Known for her diagnostic ability, coupled with her wit, Dr. Simpkins has garnered a huge following and become a sought after speaker, guest, and consultant for women’s groups. She is dedicated to raising awareness by providing the most current and up-to-date information that women at any age can utilize to feel and look their best.