What to Do Before, During, and After a Cold or Flu
It’s never fun to be at home with a cold or flu. While we may not be able to prevent them, we may be able to take steps that can reduce our exposure and have an impact on duration and severity. Here are some things you can do before, during, and even after the onset of a cold or flu:
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after touching surfaces or other handled objects like money, blowing your nose, or even after being around other people, as it’s one of the most effective antiviral strategies.1 Ensure that the handwashing occurs for at least 20 seconds.2 If you are unable to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer that contains equal or greater than 60% alcohol.3 Keep a small container in your car, purse, or bag when soap and water are not accessible.
- Stay dressed in layers to avoid temperature dips and peaks.
- Distance yourself from those who are sick as much as you can, at least six feet away.5
- Allow yourself the time and space to rest if you feel yourself coming down with a “bug,” or you simply do not feel your best. Sleep is an essential lifestyle habit that is integral to the health of the immune system.6
- Make the healthiest choices you can when it comes to food. Avoid sugar and processed foods and load up on quality protein and fat, and colorful fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, and seeds. Spend the time making nutrient-dense meals and smoothies to ensure that you are getting the highest quality nutrition possible. Stock up with fresh, dry, and frozen foods so you are prepared in case you do become ill.
- Be proactive by taking your immune-supportive nutrients, such as vitamin C, zinc, probiotics, and vitamin D.7
- Control your stress level as much as you can, as we know that stress can negatively impact immune function.8 Take a warm, magnesium-salt bath to help your body relax and unwind if you are stressed.
- Stay home to allow yourself time to rest and limit exposure and further spread through contact with others.
- Consult with your healthcare practitioner on a regular basis for recommendations specific to your symptoms and health condition; ensure you have any medications you may need during this time, whether over-the-counter or prescription.
- Hydrate with water and even add in electrolytes, especially if you have a fever, are sweating, vomiting or have diarrhea. It has been questioned as to whether micronutrient losses are greater with sweating. Every individual is different in this respect, but it is theoretically possible.9 Soups, teas, smoothies, and broths can also help you maintain fluid intake and are easy to digest.
- Eat nutrient-dense cooked foods if you have a cold, and eat when you are hungry if you have a fever (the old adage, “feed a cold, starve a fever” applies here).10
- Check in with family members or friends by text or phone to let them know how you are doing if you live alone; ask if they can bring you groceries or supplies if needed.
- Go easy on integrating back into your routine by continuing to sleep, rest, and work in moderate levels.
- Focus on healthy eating by replenishing your kitchen stores of fresh, dry, and frozen goods; incorporate variety and change up the foods you’ve been eating to ensure improved diversity of the gut microbiome, which may ultimately help with reducing inflammation.11
- Continue with your dietary supplements as recommended by your healthcare practitioner.
- Ease back into your physical activity so you do not overwork or stress your system but see this as an opportunity to reestablish your routine and perhaps be more diligent about it.
- Keep stress in check going forward. Do your best to manage stress levels and not potentially jeopardize immune function.
As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Initiate preventative, nutritional, and lifestyle strategies to ensure your body has the resources to potentially impact the duration and severity of a cold or flu. Even if you are sick, you can support your body and adopt habits to prevent future illnesses.
- Tuladhar E et al. Reducing viral contamination from finger pads: handwashing is more effective than alcohol-based hand disinfectants. J Hosp Infect. 2015;90(3):226-234.
- Centers for Disease Control. Show me the science – how to wash your hands. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-handwashing.html. Accessed March 15, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control. Show me the science – when & how to use hand sanitizer in community settings. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html. Accessed March 15, 2020.
- Olaniyan LW et al. Triclosan in water, implications for human and environmental health. Springerplus. 2016;5(1):1639.
- Centers for Disease Control. Interim guidance for public health personnel evaluating persons under investigation (PUIs) and asymptomatic close contacts of confirmed cases at their home or non-home residential settings. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/guidance-evaluating-pui.html. Accessed March 15, 2020.
- Besedovsky L et al. The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiological Reviews. 2019;99(3).
- Gombart AF et al. A review of micronutrients and the immune system-working in harmony to reduce the risk of infection. Nutrients. 2020;12(1).
- Engeland CG et al. Psychological distress and salivary secretory immunity. Brain Behav Immun. 2016;52:11-17.
- Baker L. Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human health. Temperature (Austin). 2019;6(3):211-259.
- Wang A et al. Opposing effects of fasting metabolism on tissue tolerance in bacterial and viral inflammation. Cell. 2016;166(6):1512-1525.
- Le Chatelier E et al. Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers. Nature. 2013;500:541-546.