When you’re sick, you want to get better as quickly as possible. But some of your habits may actually make your symptoms worse. Avoid these common cold and flu missteps so you can stay on the road to recovery.
1. You try to power through. Don’t keep up with your usual routine. Your body needs energy to fight off that cold or flu virus. Make rest a priority. Cancel those plans and stay home from work or school. Along with helping your body recover, you’ll also keep from spreading those germs around.
2. You ignore flu symptoms. You usually don’t need to see a doctor for a run-of-the-mill cold. But call them if you have signs of the flu, such as a high fever, body aches, and fatigue. They can give you an antiviral drug such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza). If you take one in the first 48 hours that you’re sick, you can ease your symptoms and shorten your illness by 1 or 2 days.
3. You skimp on sleep. Not getting enough weakens your immune system, which makes it harder for you to battle that infection. One study found that people who get less than 6 hours of shut-eye a night are four times more likely to get sick than those who log at least 7. So go to bed early and take naps during the day. Are your symptoms keeping you up? Soothe a nighttime cough with a little honey, and run a humidifier to help you breathe easier.
4. You bug your doctor for an antibiotic. That prescription won’t make you feel better. Antibiotics only kill bacteria, and colds and the flu are caused by viruses. Nearly one-third of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. This can raise your risk of side effects, such as diarrhea and allergic reactions. It also contributes to a huge global health problem: antibiotic resistance. That’s when bacteria get used to the drugs, so they don’t work anymore.
5. You don’t drink enough. When your throat aches, it’s not as easy to gulp down liquids. But when you stay hydrated, you can thin your mucus and break up congestion. It can also fend off headaches. Make sure you drink plenty of water. For extra relief, sip a warm beverage like herbal tea or broth. Research shows that it can help ease cold symptoms such as fatigue or a sore throat.
6. You skip meals and snacks. You might not have much of an appetite, but it’s important to eat something. Calories and nutrients will fuel the immune cells that attack cold and flu viruses. The result: You may get better faster. Try eating a bowl of chicken soup. Research shows that this classic may actually relieve some of those symptoms.
7. You light up. Smoking damages your lungs and irritates your throat. That can make your cold symptoms worse. So ditch the cigarettes and vape pens and steer clear of secondhand smoke.
8. You stress out. A hormone your body makes when you’re stressed is hard on the immune system. It also increases inflammation, which can make your stuffy nose even worse. Make an effort to focus on relaxing and recovering, and you may be back on your feet sooner.
Photo Credit: Morsa Images / Getty Images
Shimona B. Thakrar, DO, pediatric hospitalist, Baylor Scott & White Medical Center.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Is it a Cold or Flu?”
CDC: “What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs,” “Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer,” “Smoking and Overall Health.”
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Rhinology: “The effects of a hot drink on nasal airflow and symptoms of common cold and flu.”
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Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Upper Respiratory Infection.”
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