Everything you need to know about cold and flu season

As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, the cold and flu season is starting to rear its ugly head. It begs the question, why are we more prone to contagious bugs during the colder months?

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While most cases of the common cold and flu aren’t cause for serious concern and tend to go away by themselves, there are measures you can take to arm yourself against catching it in the first instance.

Cold vs. flu: What’s the difference?

Often the terms ‘cold’ and ‘flu’ are used interchangeably without a second thought, but there are actually some key differences worth noting.

First off, the similarities: both a cold and flu affect your airways and ease of breathing. They are also both caused by viruses.

Generally, a case of the common cold manifests with a trilogy of symptoms: a sore throat, blocked or runny nose, mild headache and coughing and sneezing, which lasts roughly 1-2 weeks. You’ll most likely feel more fatigued than normal, possibly a bit achy, but most of the time symptoms are confined to above the neck. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, but don’t stress, most of the times they are harmless. In fact, approximately 25 percent of cases don’t show any symptoms at all!

The flu, on the other hand, derives from the influenza virus, and symptoms can be more severe. Usually, you’ll observe a sudden onset of symptoms lasting 7-10 days, although the cough and tiredness can remain long after other symptoms fade. The main difference in symptoms with the flu, is a fever (usually 30+ degrees Celsius), shivering, muscle aches and debilitating fatigue. It’s also more contagious than the common cold.

In most cases, mild-to-moderate symptoms will resolve on their own at home with bed rest, some TLC and a healthy immune system.

Why winter?

Colds and flus can occur at any time of year but you’re definitely most vulnerable in winter. Wondering why you’re more prone than in warmer months? Read on…

There are a couple of reasons, none of which are rain – according to experts, this is apparently a myth.

Respiratory infections are transferred more readily in the wintertime because we spend more time in enclosed spaces with closer face-to-face contact. Added to this, is the low humidity. Viruses tend to last longer at colder temperatures with less humidity.

In a nutshell, since viruses thrive in cold weather, we get sick more often.

Strengthening the immune system

After regular and stringent hand washing (at least 20 seconds), there are many effective ways you can help safeguard and strengthen your immune system.

Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces

Think: doorknobs, phone screens and benchtops.

Maintain a healthy, nutrient-rich diet

While it’s tempting to indulge in comfort foods during colder weather, make sure you’re still consuming lots of nutrients. Foods that boost the immune system include oranges (obviously), berries, leafy greens, nuts and seeds and fibre-rich foods.

Vitamin C

The most renowned supplement for immunity is vitamin C – and for good reason. Naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, it can also be taken via supplementation. It’s brimming with vital antioxidants that help to combat the winter chills and the destructive effects of free radicals on the body.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, is also a healthy habit worth adding to your daily routine. Despite plenty of sun during the summer months, a large proportion of us still fall short of their daily vitamin D requirements. According to research, lack of regular exposure to sunlight during the colder months may impact the immune system. Deficiencies in vitamin D may also lead to symptoms such as poor bone growth and cardiovascular problems.

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