As the leaves change color, a much-welcomed chill enters the air, and pumpkin spice everything makes a grand entrance, there's another, less delightful guest that's planning its seasonal visit: the cold and flu season. But fret not, because with a few handy tips and tricks, you can gear up and stay one step ahead of those pesky bugs. Let's dive into how to prepare for the upcoming cold and flu season.
Arm Yourself with Knowledge
First things first, let's understand what we're up against. The common cold, influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, but they share many symptoms, making them hard to differentiate sometimes.
The cold usually comes with a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. On the other hand, the flu and COVID-19 can hit you with fever, body aches, fatigue, and a dry cough.
Because the flu and COVID-19 can look eerily similar, the timing of symptoms is your best indicator when comes to differentiating the two. With a cold or flu, patients can contract the illness and show symptoms between 2 to 3 days after being in contact with another individual who is sick. With COVID-19, the timeline is much longer. You may encounter a COVID-positive individual today and not develop symptoms until up to 10-14 days later, with the average being around 5 days.
Since a definite diagnosis cannot be made based on symptoms alone, your physician may recommend getting tested for COVID and the flu at the same time that way you can be diagnosed and treated earlier and more efficiently.
If you test positive for COVID, new isolation guidelines recommend that you stay home for at least five days and isolate from others in your home since you are the most infectious during these first five days.
Regular handwashing is your secret weapon against illness-causing germs. Scrub your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing, or being in crowded places. Hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol can also save the day when soap and water aren't available, but remember to vigorously rub hand sanitizer into your hands to help it break down bacteria’s protective barrier.
Boost Your Immune System
Your immune system is like your body's personal superhero. To keep it in top shape, fuel up with a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and zinc, are famous for their immune-boosting prowess, so load up on citrus fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Stock Up on Essentials
It’s always best to go into cold and flu season prepared with over-the-counter medications and items to help alleviate symptoms, whether you end up needing to use them or not.
Eric Futscher, M.D., a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Alliance and Texas Health Family Care in Grapevine, recommends having the following medications on hand, if you don’t already:
- Acetaminophen or NSAIDs
- Cough syrup
“I also advise that you make sure you have a thermometer that is functioning and has batteries before the season begins. The last thing you want is to reach for the thermometer when you need it only to find it isn’t working,” he adds. “You can also change the filter on your humidifier (if you have one) in preparation, in addition to having warm and cool compresses available. In anticipation of potentially being home sick for a few days, it’s a good idea to have a couple of days’ worth of food, water and possibly an electrolyte beverage available.”
Catch Those Zzz's
Remember that your immune system loves its beauty sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Proper rest helps your body recover and regenerate, making it more resilient against invading germs.
Hydration isn't only a summer concern. Cold and flu viruses thrive in dry environments, so keep your mucous membranes moist by drinking plenty of water. Herbal teas and warm broths are not only comforting and nutritious, but they can also provide an extra dose of hydration as well.
Annual flu vaccines and the latest COVID-19 boosters are designed to protect you from the most prevalent strains of the flu and COVID-19 virus. It's especially important for kids, the elderly, those who are pregnant, and those with chronic health conditions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone 6 months of age or older should get vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 with a few rare exceptions.
There are different vaccines for different age groups, which your health care provider, nurse or pharmacist will choose appropriately. Contrary to popular belief, most people with an egg allergy can still get vaccinated for the flu. Those who are pregnant or have chronic health conditions can also get vaccinated and are encouraged to do so.
People who SHOULD NOT get the flu shot include:
- Children younger than 6 months of age.
- People with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.
You should talk to your health care provider before getting a vaccine if you have one of the following conditions. He or she can help decide whether vaccination is right for you, and select the best vaccine for your situation:
- If you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine.
- If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get a flu vaccine.
- If you are not feeling well, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Remember, it takes about two weeks for the vaccine's protection to kick in, so don't wait until everyone around you is sniffling.
To find COVID-19 vaccine locations near you:
- Search vacccines.gov
- Call 1-800-232-0233
- Text your zip code to 438829
Alternatively, Texans can call 2-1-1 or visit 211Texas.org to find information on vaccine availability from local public health departments and other nearby non-profit organizations that offer free or low-cost vaccinations.
Clean and Disinfect
Regularly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces is not just a relic of 2020. Germs love to party on surfaces, so make sure to clean and disinfect your living space regularly. Focus on high-touch areas like doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls. Use disinfectant sprays or wipes to give those sneaky germs the boot. Make sure to read the directions to ensure you’re allowing the cleaning product enough time to disinfect and/or sanitize.
Practice Proper Etiquette
No, we don’t mean chewing with your mouth closed or keeping your elbows off the table. We’re talking about covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze — not your hands. This prevents the spread of germs through the air and onto surfaces.
Sneeze catch you off guard and you use your hands? Make sure you wash your hands properly to prevent the spread of germs.
Know Where and When to Get Care
Virtual Visits are expected to be a huge asset going into cold and flu season because of their ability to provide care to patients without having to physically enter a physician’s office. While talking to your doctor virtually this year may be a new and strange experience for you, Virtual Visits can help everyone stay safe during this time and free-up in-person visits for those who cannot have a Virtual Visit.
That being said, you may still be wondering how you can effectively be treated this season through a Virtual Visit, whether you’re showing cold or flu symptoms or something more typical of COVID-19.
“Most seasonal allergy, cold and flu symptoms can be resolved through telehealth with the caveat that some patients may be asked to go to a testing center or stop by our office for additional testing (such as a strep swab),” Futscher says. “This not only allows us to care for the patient but also protect patients in our clinic and protect our staff members.”
If you do end up getting sick this season, call your provider as soon as you develop symptoms and they can navigate care. For some illnesses such as the flu, it makes a big difference if treatment is started within the first 72 hours. Also, stay home if you can, stay socially distant, wear a mask and wash your hands.
“I recommend that all respiratory symptoms be assessed by a provider virtually as soon as possible. From that point, the provider can determine if the patient needs to be seen in person or go to the emergency room,” Futscher explains. “However, patients with chest pain, extreme shortness of breath that leads to being out of breath when talking, and uncontrollable vomiting do warrant presenting to the emergency room right away.”
While there’s no way to determine how bad a cold or flu season will be, being proactive ahead of the season, getting your flu shot and maintaining healthy habits such as wearing a mask, safe distancing, not touching your face and washing your hands frequently can help keep you healthy and lessen the burden on our health care facilities.
Want more tips? Read our post “5 Ways to Arm Your Immune System” to get prepared this season.
Need to see a physician during cold and flu season outside of traditional office hours? Breeze Urgent Care centers are conveniently located near you throughout our North Texas communities and are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, 365 days a year.