As temperatures drop, the risk of illness – including cold and flu – rises. It can be easy to mistake the flu for a common cold since many of the symptoms are the same, but muscle aches, cough, fever, headaches and sore throat are some of the more common signs you may be suffering from the flu, which tends to come on quicker than a cold.
In fact, a random, double-opt-in OnePoll survey of 2,005 Americans commissioned by Mucinex found sore throat pain to be one of the top three most debilitating symptoms along with fever and migraine.
While there’s no way to ensure you and your family members won’t get sick, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances.
Get a Flu Shot
The flu spreads differently than colds and can be transmitted before symptoms even arise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people older than 6 months of age get the influenza vaccine, or flu shot, annually to help protect against the strains of flu expected to be the most common during the current flu season. The injection, which does not contain a live virus, goes into the arm muscle to generate antibodies that protect against future flu infection about two weeks after receiving the vaccine.
While important year-round, maintaining regular self-care practices can go a long way toward maintaining your health during cold and flu season. Eating a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins can help strengthen your immune system, as can working out moderately each day. Regular exercise also helps reduce inflammation. In addition, proper hydration can help maintain many important body functions, and getting the National Sleep Foundation-recommended 7-9 hours of sleep can help keep antibodies strong and build a defense against illnesses.
Prepare for Symptoms
As one of the common symptoms of the flu, sore throat pain can flip your life upside down with the constant nagging, disruptive pain and irritation. However, 55% of those surveyed said they were likely to “power through” a sore throat and continue working, going to school and completing other tasks while dealing with sore throat pain.
“What separates these lozenges from others is they’re clinically proven to numb sore throat pain fast,” said Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngology, and head and neck (ENT) surgeon. “Both lozenge varieties contain Hexylresorcinol, a local anesthetic for topical use on the mucous membranes of the throat and mouth. As a lozenge dissolves in the mouth, it starts to deliver a local ‘numbing’ anesthetic effect directly to the throat within seconds, lasting up to two hours. For those needing relief from a sore throat and cough, the Mucinex InstaSoothe Sore Throat + Cough Relief Lozenges also contain the active ingredient Dextromethorphan HBr to provide cough suppression.”
Stock Your Medicine Cabinet
Be ready before cold and flu hit your household. Take inventory of your medicine cabinet, get rid of any expired medicines and make note of any you need to replace and replenish. Make sure you have pain relievers, fever reducers, decongestants, antihistamines and cough syrups that can be used to help fight cold and flu symptoms. In addition, think about other supplies you may need to have on hand such as tissues, cough drops, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial soap, a thermometer and a humidifier.
Disinfect Household Surfaces
Cold and flu viruses can live outside the human body on hard, non-porous surfaces such as metal, plastic and wood for hours, and sometimes even days. Regularly cleaning often-touched household surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, faucet handles and countertops with a disinfectant spray or wipe can help kill germs that cause the viruses. Look for Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectants containing bleach, alcohol, pine oil, sodium hypochlorite, citric acid, hydrogen peroxide or quaternary ammonium compounds for best results.
Remember Healthy Habits
One of the easiest ways to help avoid getting sick is to practice proper hygiene. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible, as these are areas where cold and flu germs can most easily gain entry into your system. Remember to cough and sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow if a tissue is not readily available. Frequently wash your hands with warm water and anti-bacterial soap for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom, before eating and after touching surfaces in public places. A good rule of thumb is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice to judge the time. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also suffice when a sink isn’t within close proximity. Also avoid sharing items like utensils and cups, even with family members, to help avoid spreading germs.
Have a Plan for Sick Days
During cold and flu season, you or one of your family members may become ill and need to miss work or school. If you typically work in an office space, check to see if working remotely is possible and verify your office’s policies about sick time. Saving sick time or a couple vacation days for the season can help avoid having to take unpaid time off if you need to stay home for any reason. Also consider enlisting the help of friends or relatives to help with sick children in the event you’re unable to take time off from work, and coordinate with your children’s teachers to ensure your little ones receive any schoolwork they may have missed while home sick.