Published: Tuesday, 23 January 2018 16:37
We're in the midst of cold and flu season. But falling ill isn't an inevitability, and by following a little advice, you can help yourself from becoming sick. So here are some of our top tips. After all, it never hurts to have a refresher on how to avoid a common cold, and as suffering from an existing illness increases the likelihood of the HSV-1 virus becoming active and causing a cold sore outbreak, you'll also be helping your face stay blister-free.
Wash your hands thoroughly
As you are probably well aware by now, washing your hands regularly is one of the best defences against catching an illness. Germs get easily passed around as they stay on objects such as computer keyboards and door handles – and they can live on these surfaces for hours. You can wipe down shared devices before using them to help stop the spread, and washing your hands regularly will also help.
But it’s not just the frequency that’s important; how you wash them is vital, too. Proper hand washing technique, according to the NHS, is very thorough, as many people commonly miss certain areas, such as the thumbs, fingertips, and the back of hands. First, you wet your hands and then lather them up with a good amount of soap so that it covers all over both hands. Rub your hands together palm to palm and then wash the back of your hands, interlacing your fingers as you do so. Clasp your right thumb with your left hand and rub in rotation and then repeat with the opposite hand. Then rub your fingers in the other hand's palm in a circular motion and, again, repeat with the opposite hand. Dry thoroughly. The rule of thumb (no pun intended) is that the washing process should take the same amount of time as singing "Happy Birthday" aloud two times (about 20 seconds). If you're concerned about dry and chapped hands (a common concern in the winter months), make sure you use a moisturising hand wash.
Get enough rest
To fight off the common cold-causing winter bugs, your body needs to be well rested, so make sure you're getting enough sleep. The recommended amount of sleep is between seven and nine hours – but it is common for many people not to get this much. In the winter months, when a larger proportion of the days are spent in darkness, it's more usual to feel drowsier earlier in the evening, so it should hopefully be easier to catch up on sleep. This is because our bodies produce more melatonin – a.k.a. the sleep hormone – when it's dark. Made by the pineal gland in your brain, melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles.
Eat the right foods
Make sure you pack your diet with the right foods to strengthen your body's natural defence system. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are your friends, especially those with vitamin C such as oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Ensuring you get your 5-a-day is always an effective way of giving your immune system a much-needed boost. After a cold day out and about, a warm bowl of vegetable soup could be just what you need.
Don't be afraid of a little exercise. When it’s cold outside, going for a run may place at the bottom of your list of things you want to do, but this doesn't change the fact that regular moderate exercise will help keep your immune system strong. If it's too chilly outside, try to find ways of exercising at home or join a gym. No need to overdo it, though. If you're not used to being active, gentle exercise is fine.
One last thing – January is a time where many of us feel down. The gloomy weather and perhaps a few failed New Year resolutions don't help, but there can be many other reasons why people can feel sad at this time of year. But it's important to stay positive. You need to be at your best to avoid becoming ill (or, if you've already caught a cold, you need to be at your best to beat it), and when you're stressed, your immune system will weaken.
Occupying your mind with a new hobby and spending time with friends and family can help – as long as they are not ill themselves. If you have a cold sore, then yes, you should refrain from loved ones coming into direct contact with it (so no kissing), but you shouldn't let the small blemish prevent you from socialising altogether (and if you have a tube of reliable cold sore cream, such as Herstat, you should be ready to tackle the cold sore in its early stages so that it is never able to develop to become visibly noticeable).
Ultimately, nothing you do will ever completely guarantee that you’ll avoid illness. What you can do, however, is give yourself a good fighting chance by following the above points. But remember: if you feel like your symptoms are worsening or do not show any signs of improving after a week, you may need to go to your GP. But it is worth calling 111 to get advice over the phone first.