26 Jul Boosting Immunity to Fight Colds and Flu
Winter is time of year that provides perfect conditions for many illnesses to prevail – especially colds and flu. Each year it’s reported that around 10-20 percent of New Zealander’s are infected with influenza or the flu in more common terms.
We often say that we have “the flu” when what we actually have is a cold. A cold is a relatively mild illness with nasal congestion or a runny nose, a mild headache, slight fever and cough. There are over 200 different respiratory viruses that cause common colds, which is why adults can have 2 – 5 colds per year and children may have up to 10.
The flu, on the other hand, is a much more severe illness characterised by a sudden onset of symptoms. These include a high temperature (>38 degrees) and chills, generalised weakness and severe aching muscles and loss of appetite. A more severe dry cough is also common.
Colds will generally settle spontaneously – stay at home and rest until your temperature is normal and you feel better. Avoid dehydration by drinking small amounts of fluids regularly and consult your pharmacist about appropriate medicines to relieve discomfort and fever if necessary. You can manage the flu in the same way but should contact your doctor if you becoming increasingly short of breath, are unable to take in fluids or continue to get worse after a few days. In children it is important to take them to the doctor if they have quick and noisy breathing; are unusually irritable or sleepy; are under 6 months old with a fever; are refusing to eat or drink; complain of sore ears or a sore throat, or are coughing excessively.
In many cases some preventative measures, or seeking care earlier, can help avoid a more serious illness. There is a range of actions you can take, for yourself or your family, as part of a plan to be well. A flu vaccination is a good place to start. These are still available from your Practice Nurse and provide protection for up to 12 months. Find more information about flu vaccine here. You can also harness and support your body’s natural immune system, optimising its ability to fight off any viruses that are hanging about.
Our top tips include:
Hand Washing – This simple preventative measure is often overlooked and under-valued. Transmission from hands to mouth is the most common way for viruses to enter your system. Thorough washing (at least 20 seconds, with soap and warm water) and thorough drying are all key steps in effective infection control.
Sleep – Not only does a good night’s sleep support your day-to-day function but research suggests that good sleep is important in preventing ill health. Try starting your bedtime routine just 10-15 mins earlier and turning off the TV or electronics a couple hours before bedtime too.
Get more sunshine – Lack of sun exposure can actually keep your body from producing Vitamin D, an immune boosting vitamin essential to development. So in winter rug up and make sure you get outdoors – even for just 15-30 minutes a day.
Get Active – We are fortunate in Wanaka with the array of outdoor activity options available to us. Keep up the physical activity in winter and get out for walks, bike-rides, skiing or playing in the snow to stay active.
Food Choices – Ensure your food intake is crammed with vitamin rich, nutrient dense food. Try to focus on immune boosting foods like oranges, kiwifruit, bananas, sweet potato and walnuts. Pre-making home-prepared lunches and snacks for work or school is a good way to ensure that you and your family are getting lots of healthy food choices.
Prioritise Gut Health – 80% of your body’s immune system resides in the gastro-intestinal tract and the immune system depends on a strong presence of good bacteria (probiotics) to help the immune system. You can improve your gut health by avoiding processed foods and including lots of whole grains, fruit and vegetables in your diet. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, cultured yoghurt and tempeh are known to be especially good for boosting your good intestinal bacteria.
Remember that boosting immunity takes time so you need to persist with these habits and try to make them part of your everyday actions and lifestyle choices.