Illustrated By Sydney Hass.
Problem: Cold and Flu
Your weapons: Steam and exercise
So, you’ve been extra careful about washing your hands, you got the flu shot, and you've pretty much been avoiding all human contact since October. And, yet, you still
came down with a nasty bug? Go ahead and place (part of) the blame on winter. “Spending more time indoors, coupled with the dry winter air, makes us more susceptible to picking up a virus since we are cooped up,” says Dr. Tanya Edwards, MD, director of Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Both the cold and flu are caused by different viruses — the flu is highly mutable and the cold virus has more than 200 strands, making it difficult to nail down one vaccine or “cure” for either, says Dr. Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of the Respiratory Care Department of the Mount Sinai Medical Center and author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds & Flu
Figuring out if it’s just a cold that’s bogging you down or something more serious is pretty easy. “Colds attack the upper airways, causing a sore throat, sneezing, and congestion. They rarely cause a fever and last no longer than a week. The flu zones in on the lower airways and often produces a high fever. With a cold, you may have a scratchy throat and feel stuffy, but you can still be out and about, while the flu will leave you drained and exhausted, making it hard to even move,” says Schacter.
If a bug has you sniffling and wheezing, there’s no one-stop-shop cures yet (we’re hoping the miracle of modern medicine will fix this soon), but there are plenty of tricks that will tackle the most common symptoms. First off, hopping into a hot shower or steaming your face under a towel for five to 10 minutes will do wonders for your nose. “Steam loosens mucous and clears up congestion,” says Schacter. Similarly, a bowl of chicken soup — though science is still debating its medicinal properties — can also relieve some of the sniffles that accompany colds or the flu. According to a study in Chest
, that soup can also reduce upper respiratory symptoms. Since viruses love to hang out in the mucous membranes found in the schnoz, mom’s go-to broth could cut some days off your misery, too.
Walking around in a sick daze certainly doesn’t give us much incentive to jump out of bed and head to spin class, but a couple minutes of daily fitness and meditation could actually knock a few days off your illness. “Moderate exercise and meditation increase the production of T-cells in the body, which are necessary for healthy immunity because they’re the ones fighting viruses and foreign particles on the front lines,” says Schacter. Moving more on the reg might actually help repel colds and flus in the first place. “Studies in older adults have shown decreased infection risks and increased rates of vaccine effectiveness in those who exercised regularly,” says Dr. Melina Jampolis, MD, a physician and nutrition specialist in Los Angeles. How can you tell if you’re capable of hitting the gym? “I recommend doing a neck check: If your symptoms are above the neck such as sneezing and congestion, you can safely exercise. But, if you're experiencing symptoms below the neck, such as coughing, stomach cramps, or body aches, it's better to steer clear and just rest,” he says.
And while conventional wisdom had previously pushed vitamins, now experts say it’s okay to skip the vitamin aisle. There’s no harm in continuing to use vitamin C, but going crazy on the orange juice and Emergen-C won’t work wonders: A review of 30 vitamin C studies didn't find any conclusive evidence that the vitamin actually helps ward off colds or flu. “Vitamin C may decrease the duration of your cold, but won’t have an impact on the severity of it and doesn’t play a role in prevention,” says Edwards. Same thing goes for vitamin D: A recent research in the Journal of the American Medical Association
found that vitamin D didn’t reduce the length or severity of a cold.