Colds and flu are common during the winter months and can be hard to avoid when germs are rife. But what effect do they have and what can you do to reduce the risk of getting ill?
It’s no fun suffering from a cold or flu. Having a sore throat, tickly cough, runny nose and constant sneezing, not to mention the added aches and pains caused by flu, can make you feel really miserable and diminish your determination to diet.
Sadly, in the winter months, catching a cold is a common occurrence and it’s more likely you’ll get one at this time of the year. There have been many theories as to why we’re more prone to colds in the winter, with an old one being due to spending more time indoors.
However, other theories suggest that our noses are colder in winter than in summer and that this lowers our resistance to infection.
According to the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, adults get an average of two to five colds per year, and children seven to 10 colds a year. But as you get older, the number of colds you get tends to decrease. This is because a healthy immune system learns how to deal with viruses and generates antibodies each time you get a cold.
Colds are caused by viruses. There are hundreds of different types of viruses in existence but about 50% of all colds are caused by rhinoviruses.
The effects of colds and flu
Suffering from a cold can make you feel rundown and unwell. Although there’s no cure (as antibiotics don’t work on cold viruses), most colds should get better within a week. Cough medicines and sore throats can be used to ease discomfort and steam inhalations (such as menthol) can help a blocked nose.
Flu can be more debilitating and make you feel very ill. Some of the symptoms are the same as a cold, but can also include aching muscles, chills, headaches, a fever and tiredness. Flu symptoms can last from a few days to a few weeks and the viruses that cause it tend to differ from year to year, making immunity to it trickier.
Like colds, there’s no one main cure for flu, but there are self-help methods you can use to ease the symptoms while your body is fighting the infection. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help ease muscle pains, sore throats, headaches or sinus pain, plus will also help reduce a fever. Hot drinks and gargling can both ease sore throats and steam inhalations are good for clearing nasal congestion.
Plenty of rest is beneficial and with full-blown flu it’s better to rest up rather than attempting to go back to work too soon, especially if you’re still infectious. Your diet when ill
If you’re suffering from a cold or flu, it’s normal to be a bit fed up and feel your determination to keep dieting wane. But if your body is battling an infection, should you be continuing with your diet plan?
When you’ve got a cold, there’s no reason to stop your diet, but you may need a higher intake while you recover.
Cambridge Weight Plan’s in-house medical team recommends: “If you’re on Sole Source, we’d suggest stepping up because a higher energy intake would then arm the body to fight the infection. For an average cold, you shouldn’t be on a step lower than 800kcal.
”If you’ve got full-blown flu (this doesn’t cover man flu!) and are feeling very unwell, then we advise that your intake should be no lower than 1200kcal. If you’re really ill with flu, then you may need to consider going off Plan for the duration of the illness. When you’ve recovered, you can resume where you left off.
When you’re unwell and don’t feel like eating much, it is important to ensure you have plenty of fluids – at least six to eight glasses a day. Extra fluids are required if you have flu and have got a fever, plus a good intake of fluids when you have an infection will help stop you from getting dehydrated.
Be aware that if you’re taking cough medicine, cold or flu mixtures, or sucking throat sweets or lozenges, some products can contain high levels of sugar and this can affect your diet efforts. If you’re concerned, look out for sugar-free versions instead.
How to avoid colds and flu
Colds and flu are caught as a result of contact with people already suffering from them. Sometimes it can be hard to avoid them when everyone around you at work or social events is coughing and sneezing, or when your children pick up infections at nursery or school. But there are some practical steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling ill.
The cold virus is spread through droplets formed when someone coughs or sneezes, from direct contact with someone who has a cold (such as shaking hands) or as a result of touching a surface they’ve touched.
That’s why the standard message of stopping the spread of germs, ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ applies to anyone with a cold or flu. The idea being to catch coughs or sneezes in a tissue, bin tissues quickly and wash your hands regularly to kill germs and stop them spreading through touched surfaces.
At home or work, regularly washing your hands or using alcohol hand gel can help reduce the risk of picking up cold germs from other people.
There are also steps you can take to boost your immune system, which may play a part in helping you reduce your risk of catching colds. Some of the most popular immune-boosting remedies include taking vitamin C, zinc, garlic capsules and echinacea. Sometimes complementary medicines can interact with other prescribed medications, so it’s advisable to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking them to ensure they are safe for you.
Annual flu vaccinations are available to help provide protection against flu. They’re free to people deemed particularly at risk, such as older people or those with some existing medical conditions, but many pharmacies also have flu jabs available, so it’s well worth investigating if you’re regularly in an environment where germs spread easily.