Cold or Flu – The Best and Worst Ways to Fight Winter Viruses

Cold and flu season is here again, and it seems like everyone has advice about how to avoid illness or get better quicker it if you do catch something. But there are lots of myths being passed around about how best to get over a winter bug, especially remedies that have been handed down for generations that have no basis in fact.

Here’s a rundown of the seven worst and three best ways to either avoid getting sick in the first place – or treat your symptoms if you do.

7 Cold and Flu Myths You Should Forget

Here are the old wives tales most of us have heard since childhood. While many may seem to make sense – scientific evidence indicates that these words of wisdom are anything but.

1) You Can ‘Sweat Out’ a Cold

Trying to get over a cold quicker by sweating it out won’t accomplish anything. The common cold can be caused by well over 200 different viruses. Regardless of what you do, it can take from several days to a few weeks for your immune system to get a cold out of your system. Worse, if you don’t keep hydrated during your attempts at ‘sweating it out,’ you’ll possibly do more harm than good since even mild dehydration will make your mucus thicker and harder to clear.

2) Don’t Exercise when you’re Fighting a Cold

While you will need to rest, exercising a little could help you to feel better.
A study from Ball State University divided volunteers with severe colds into two groups, one of which exercised for thirty minutes a day, five days a week. The second group was instructed to only rest. Test-subjects from both groups experienced cold symptoms for about 8 days which peaked during the morning hours. But, the exercisers reported feeling better in the afternoon and evening than the resting group did.

While exercise is good for you, you shouldn’t overdo it when you’re feeling poorly. Hard workouts (more than an hour) could actually weaken your immunity.

3) Avoid Dairy when you have a Cold

There’s absolutely no medical benefit to avoiding dairy when you’re sick. Although many people, including some doctors, think that dairy consumption increases mucus secretion, research shows that this is probably just the placebo effect. In a recent study, people who were told that they were drinking cow’s milk reported more severe nasal symptoms than people who were told that they were drinking soy milk. But when the same individuals didn’t know which milk they were drinking they reported the same effects – none.

If you do find that you or a family member get sinusitis (sinus inflammation) or ear infection after consuming dairy; the problem may be a dairy allergy rather than anything cold or flu-related.

4) You can catch a Cold from Being Cold

Everybody should know by now that the only thing that causes a cold is the cold virus. But many of us still cling to the belief that going out in the cold when not dressed warmly enough or while your hair is wet is an express ticket to a cold or flu. This is just a case of guilt by association; yes, we tend to get sick more often during the winter – but it’s not the cold that’s to blame.

The real reason cases of cold and flu spike in the winter months is proximity. When the weather turns nasty, we tend to spend more time indoors, which increases the odds that we’ll pass viruses to each other by sneezing and physical contact. Being poorly dressed against the cold can be dangerous to your health (hypothermia), but it won’t make it any likelier that you’ll be infected with a virus.

5) You’re not Contagious if you Don’t have a Fever

When you have a cold, you’ll be most contagious in the first two to three days, whether you’ve got a fever or not, according to the National Institutes of Health. The contagious period of a cold virus is typically over sometime between seven and ten days after onset. And adults or older children will generally experience a very low fever or even no fever at all. Young kids, though, will often have a fever that hovers around 100° to 102°F.

Flu can be sneaky as well: The CDC says that most healthy adults could be able to infect others from as early as one day before showing apparent symptoms and for a further five days afterward, whether or not they have a fever. Children with weaker immune systems can be contagious for more than a week.

6) Antibiotics will cure a Cold or Flu

This one myth is not only false but has caused a great deal of damage our general health. The over-prescription of antibiotics has created numerous strains of antibiotic-resistant viruses for which we no longer have many effective treatments left to use.

It’s true that in cases of bacterial infection that a course of antibiotics will help you get better faster, but they are ineffective when dealing with a viral infection. For example, if suspect that you have strep throat, the doctor will take a culture to determine whether or not the bacteria that causes strep is present. If so, he’ll prescribe a round of antibiotics to get rid of it fast – but if the test is negative and you’re experiencing the symptoms of strep; it’s likely a virus causing your discomfort. All antibiotics will do at that point is risk creating a resistant strain of any bacteria that are present.

7) Vitamin C Cures Colds and Flu

Sadly, this belief isn’t supported by science.

In 2007, researchers examined the results of 29 different studies searching for any effects vitamin C can have on colds. They concluded that taking at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C every day (not just when you’re sick) might make your symptoms go away about one day sooner than if you didn’t.

And the benefit ends there.

Following a daily vitamin C supplement regimen didn’t make it less likely that people will catch a cold. Furthermore, starting vitamin C once a cold had already begun didn’t have any positive effect either. This study concluded that vitamin C doesn’t work any better than a placebo.

8) A Cold can turn into the Flu

Both the common cold and influenza are caused by completely entirely viruses. So a cold virus won’t change into the one that causes flu. If you get the flu, it’s because it was a flu virus to begin with. Since these two illnesses have very similar symptoms, it can be hard to tell the difference between them based solely on how bad you feel. A good rule of thumb is that (typically) flu symptoms are worse than you’ll feel with a cold, with more serious symptoms, like a fever, painful body aches, tiredness, and a persistent, dry cough. A cold is also more likely to be accompanied by a stuffy or a runny nose. Colds won’t usually result in more serious problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or being hospitalized.

3 Ways to Feel Better Faster

1) Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough water to stay well-hydrated will make mucous thinner and easier to clear. Besides water you can drink juice, soup broth or a soothing mix of warm lemon water with honey to help loosen congestion causing mucous and stay hydrated. You should avoid caffeinated sodas, alcohol or coffee which act as diuretics and can make encourage dehydration.

2) Use a Humidifier

Adding moisture to the air in your home with a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer might help loosen up congestion in your lungs and nasal passages. Make sure that you change the water every day, and clean the appliance according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Whatever you do, don’t use hot steam, it hasn’t been shown to help any better than a cool mist and carries the risk of burns.

3) OTC Cold and Cough Medicines

These won’t prevent illness or in any way shorten the duration of a cold or flu, but OTC medications will make the symptoms of illness more bearable. Pain reducers will relieve the head and body ache (neuralgia) that accompanies infection. Decongestants will clear your sinuses and allow you to breathe clearly. Cough medicines will keep you from irritating your throat and lungs with constant coughs.

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George Citroner

GW Citroner is a Hudson Valley, NY based writer whose work has appeared in over 20 publications and on an incredible range of Health & Wellness topics.

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