Prepare for Cold & Flu Season

Prepare for Cold & Flu Season

As the air turns colder and more time is spent indoors cold and flu season begins. These airborne upper respiratory infections spread quickly via sneezing coughing and touching. Getting a flu shot will help protect you from the flu however there is no vaccine for the common cold so now what? Here is my advice on bolstering your immune system to minimize your chances of getting sick this season and taking care of yourself if you do.

I advise my patients to get better sleep lower stress levels and have a broad and diverse social network to bolster immunity. Studies over the years have confirmed that sleep disruption or deprivation psychosocial stress and social isolation all increase susceptibility to colds. I also recommend moderate exercise. Studies show regular moderate exercise as part of an overall healthy lifestyle may bolster immunity. Notably getting too much exercise or overtraining can deplete your immune system and make you more susceptible to colds. Try gargling with water (but not antimicrobial iodine solution) 3 times a day. This was shown to decrease incidence of colds in Japanese studies. I do not recommend smoking. Smoking impairs your body's ability to fight infection in the respiratory tract thereby increasing your chance of respiratory illness. Finally I am not a big proponent of supplements unless they are truly a necessity. For example vitamin C may provide some benefit in people under significant physical stress (marathon runners sleep-deprived soldiers training in arctic environment) and Zinc sulfate 10-15mg daily has been shown to decrease cold frequency in school children.

If you do catch a cold or come down with the flu here are some guidelines to getting healthy. Most people do not need to see a doctor for a typical upper respiratory infection. However you should see a doctor if you have persistent high fever over 101.5 severe pain uncontrolled by over-the-counter medications or symptoms persisting over 2 weeks. If you have other medical problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes they should be monitored closely as any infection can cause worsening of chronic medical problems.

Studies indicate that children under the age of five will not benefit from antihistamines or decongestants. There is potential harm of using these medications in young children. Use nasal bulb syringe and children's Tylenol or Advil for pain/fever. No other cold remedies are needed.

Adults will receive symptomatic relief with decongestant/antihistamine combinations but watch for side effects sedation with some antihistamines and insomnia/increased blood pressure with decongestants like Sudafed. Topical nasal decongestants like Afrin can provide symptomatic relief of congestion but need to be used sparingly. Nasal saline drops or irrigation can also provide symptomatic relief and can be used as desired. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol ibuprofen and Aleve can be used for aches or pains. Some people also find breathing steam or humidified air can provide relief.

There is a prescription nasal spray called Ipratropium that can help dry up a very runny nose. Intranasal steroids can also help but Nasacort is now available without a prescription. Otherwise prescription drugs really have no role in typical upper respiratory infections. Quite the contrary they have actually been shown only to prolong recovery and cause side effects.

On a personal note I believe that fruits and vegetables contain a powerhouse of nutrients that are essential for super immune function. I have read many testimonials and seen many patients who tell me that they feel much better and get sick less often when they improved their diet to include more wholesome nutritious food. Only fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals that have been found in the lab to fight germs and even cancer cells. These compounds include allicin isothiocyanate polyphenols flavonoids ellagic acid and lignans just name a few. For optimal health and immune function I encourage all my patients to eat a variety of vegetables fruits legumes seeds nuts and mushrooms. 

Dennis Lipton MD
Internal Medicine Vail Valley Medical Center

If you are interested in boosting your immunity schedule an appointment with Dr. Dennis Lipton a board-certified internist at Vail Valley Medical Center's Internal Medicine clinics. Learn more at vvmc.com/internalmed or by calling (970) 477-3090.