It’s that time of year again! Everybody’s all stoked on decorative pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, and whiskey drinks — reminiscing on the golden childhood days of apple picking and terrorizing your neighbors for those fabled elusive (full-size) snickers bars. Ah, sweet memories. Unfortunately, we all too frequently forget that fall heralds the dreaded head cold and flu season. No one wants to befriend sexy Gandalf at a Halloween party if their nose is running down his/her chin. Lauren wrote an article last weekend about the value of not getting your coworkers sick, and today I’m here with some ways to support your health on the cheap this fall.
Feed your immune system now before you’re exposed.
Get sleep each night, drink plenty of fluids, don’t forget your fruit and veggies (we all know fruits give us vitamin C, but some people also swear by antioxidant-rich garlic). As a nurse, the best way to ward off illness is to take care of yourself from the get go. By staying rested, hydrated, and nourished, you give your body its best chance to deflect viruses and bacteria. I know it’s party season, but try not to overextend yourself for events and give yourself permission to turn down extraneous invitations in favor of keeping healthy. Try not to overdo it on caffeine and alcohol, and make sure you eat a colorful (and varied) diet.
While there is controversy around whether regular supplements of vitamin C can reduce incidents of getting a cold, your body may be fighting viruses without you realizing it. Make sure to get the recommended amount of vitamin C for your diet. A bag of oranges at my grocery store run about four bucks, make a great portable snack, and support my immune system. Not into citrus fruit? Try berries, mango, or bell peppers for a boost of vitamin C!
Seriously consider a flu vaccination.
The flu is especially dangerous for small children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. Get your flu shot! Yes – YOU! Even if you “never get the flu,” you should still get vaccinated for someone you love. Each year, the CDC develops a flu vaccine based on research indicating the most likely strains in circulation for that year. Traditional flu vaccines (Trivalent Flu Shots) protect you from three specific strains, but may overlap to help protect you against more. Read more about the vaccines here. If you are needle-phobic, ask about the nasal spray vaccination which is supposed to be just as effective (but often costs about $10 more). Bear in mind that it takes about two weeks for your body to build immunity after receiving the flu vaccine, so don’t wait – get vaccinated now!
Here are some free (or nearly free) places to get poked for the greater good:
- Your employer: ask if there will be a free flu vaccine drive at your place of work — there often is.
- Your primary care provider: covered by insurance
- Your local health department: will often offer free or low-cost vaccines
- Your college or university health center: give them a call or stop by in-between classes!
- Your pharmacy: Walgreens, Rite Aide, and Duane Reade all provide flu shots. Although they can administer them for free if you have health insurance, they run about $25-$40 if you do not (which is still a lot cheaper than flu medicine and missing work).
Give your body a boost if you realize you’ve got a bug coming on.
Focus on staying hydrated and nourished. Soups, hot teas, salt water gurgles, and ‘hot’ spices can help loosen congestion and soothe a sore throat. Don’t write off the cheap and easy stuff here! When you’re sick you can easily become dehydrated which can be a life-threatening issue. Not only do soups help relieve your stuffy nose and soothe a scratchy throat, they also help increase your intake of fluid. Eating them is an excellent way to stay nourished when you may not feel like eating or cooking anything complicated. Hot, preferably caffeine-free, tea can help you feel warm when you have the chills and will encourage you to keep your liquid game strong. I personally reach for mint, lemon, or echinacea teas when I’m feeling icky, and in my experience generic cheap brands are just as tasty as expensive brands ~90% of the time.
Considering how cheap salt is, and seeing as even the chick who never cooks has salt in her kitchen, I highly recommend a salt water gurgle to help soothe and clear your throat. A teaspoon dissolved in about six to eight ounces of very warm (but don’t burn yourself!) water can provide temporary relief. Experiment with adding a squeeze of lemon or a bit of honey to improve the taste. Get a box of tissues handy, and go to town on hot teas, spicy soups, and salt water gurgles!
The Journal of Medical Research published a research article, “A Combination of High-dose Vitamin C Plus Zinc for the Common Cold”, which reminds us that Zinc has been clinically proven to reduce the length and severity of colds, especially if taken very early in the illness (Maggini, Beveridge, & Suter. February 2012 vol. 40. 128-42). Echinacea, known round here in the South as Purple Cone Flower, is also thought to be an immune system booster; read more about it from the US National Library of Medicine. You can find zinc and echinacea in tablet, lozenge, or even tea form. If you buy generic brands you can save serious cash: snag a box of Walgreen’s brand zinc lozenges for about $5. Pay special attention to any allergies or medical history you may have before you take any supplements like lozenges, zinc, echinacea (especially if you are allergic to the daisy flower family or take certain prescription medicines). If you aren’t sure, call or visit your doctor or Advanced Practice Nurse before starting a regimen. Also, avoid alcohol and smokey environments until you’re feeling better.
Because the common cold can be caused by any one of about 200 viruses, it’s important to remember that antibiotics are ineffective against the cold virus. But getting your vitamin C can reduce your cold duration by about 8% (14% in children) (Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000980. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4.). So break out your vitamins or eat some extra orange or grapefruit slices when you start to feel cold symptoms.
Understand your medications.
Take the extra three and a half minutes to read your over-the-counter (OTC) drug labels in their entirety, and Google medical lingo you may not be familiar with. Lots of people just start popping cold meds like candy without understanding the dosages. Familiarize yourself with the drugs you get – even without a prescription. Every medication has side effects, including Tylenol and cough suppressants, and OTCs can have serious consequences for inappropriate dosing. If you’re feeling really lost in the allergy or cold aisle at your drug store, don’t be afraid to approach the pharmacy counter and ask the pharmacist questions – that’s what they are there for! They also might be able to correct confusion or point you to a cheaper generic medicine.
For more really helpful information:
2. Mayoclinic talks cold remedies: Common cold remedies.
3. WebMD gets in-depth about how to take care of a cold: Sore throat and other throat treatments.
4. Dr Caudle doesn’t buy your flu vaccine excuses: Seven myths about the flu vaccine.
5. The University of Maryland explores if garlic strengthens your immune system: The benefits of garlic!
Keisha is a nurse in Nashville, TN. She likes sandwiches and seeing local bands in dive bars with her boyfriend, who sometimes wears t-shirts with his own face on them. She is on Instagram.
Image via Pexels