Blow the cold out

Keep the "cough and cold" menace out but, if it comes knocking, take good care of yourself

Tissue paperAt the beginning of a new year, when you are waiting to put the resolutions you made into practice and you are ready to take on new challenges, the last thing you need is a bout of common cold. After all, common colds tend to favour the winters!

Some researchers believe that cold weather constricts blood vessels in the nose, slowing the white blood cells that fight infection – thereby reducing immunity to cold viruses. Another group insists that colds are more common in winter because people spend more time indoors where germs spread easily. Either way, we see many people going under the weather at this time of the year. A cold can be caused by 200 different types of viruses – which is why there has been no specific cure discovered yet. Until then, all we can do is try and prevent it or fight it back.

Feeding your immune system

Winter is the time when most vegetables and fruits are in season in India. The markets are lush with produce of every possible colour. Eating a well-balanced diet, replete with fresh fruits and vegetables of a variety of colours, ensures you get a good dose of anti-oxidants – including vitamin C. Special effort must be taken to eat foods rich in vitamin C such as guavas, citrus fruits, papaya and Indian gooseberry [amla]. Managing your protein intake in this season also makes sure your immunity is at its peak – as most immune mediators are proteins. Boiled eggs, chicken soup, tofu, paneer, sprouted beans, and lentils, are all great sources of building up proteins. It is also proven that 30 minutes of aerobic activity each day can keep your immunity up and active.

Don’t let the cold catch you

It is common for the cold virus to spread rapidly from one member to the other in a household. Children attending school or day-care centres are more susceptible due to the large numbers cooped up in closed spaces. Colds are literally handed down from one person to the other. An affected person, while touching his nose, or closing his mouth while sneezing, has a heavy load of viruses on his hands. These germs are left behind on surfaces, doorknobs, books, keyboard and other such objects – ready to be transferred to the next person who comes in contact with these surfaces. So, the best thing to do when one of your family members is down with cold is to keep all surfaces cleaned periodically with a safe disinfectant. Washing hands frequently also helps. One must sneeze or rinse their nose into tissues which are disposed of immediately. If your kid is suffering from cold, refrain from sending him/her to school, so that you can keep the other kids in the school safe.

At home

  • Colds mostly lead to stuffy and runny noses, sneezing, itchy and irritated throat, weakness and sometimes body ache. The nose and throat congestion is markedly reduced by plain steam inhalation. If the nostrils are blocked, using a mild nasal decongestant such as saline sprays – prior to inhalation, makes the process easier and more effective. Saline sprays are available over the counter and these are safe even for use in children. For a painful throat, do warm water gargles with salt or an aspirin – warm water gargle can provide soothing relief.
  • It is best to stick to warm liquids through the day, to ensure that one is adequately hydrated. This keeps the mucus from drying, in addition to providing soothing relief. Home-made soups from fresh vegetables or chicken, congee, pepper rasam, herbal teas made from ginger and basil – all work well. Alcohol, coffee and cigarettes are best avoided as they cause dehydration and aggravation of symptoms.
  • Stay hydrated in a balanced way. However, when you hydrate, you also need minerals to hold onto the water. Sodium maintains water balance outside the cells, while potassium, magnesium and calcium help to maintain water balance inside the cells. Hence, it is better not to drink distilled water as it removes important minerals while doing so.
  • Latest research suggests that high doses of vitamin C help shorten the duration of a cold. This can be achieved by eating a vitamin C-rich diet or by dosing yourself with the tablets early on during the cold.
  • Over-the-counter decongestant tablets must be taken with caution, and never without the advice of your family doctor as this may cause a rise in blood pressure in some people. Taking these tablets round-the-clock over 2-3 days may actually worsen congestion. Remember never to self-medicate children with these medications.
  • Resting it out is good if there is accompanying fever or drowsiness from anti-allergic medications. Home-cooked nourishing food, adequate sleep and a warm, cosy environment, with a stock of your favourite DVDs, is sure to make you bounce back faster.

When to see your doctor

In the following conditions, it is important to consult a medical professional:

  • Fever higher than 38oC
  • High fever with aches and weakness
  • Fever with sweating, chills and cough with yellow sputum
  • Worsening symptoms or fever lasting more than a week.

In children, one needs to exercise more caution and if symptoms persist for more than 48 hours, it is good to get a clean chit from the paediatrician.