When it’s sub-freezing outside, moms and dads frequently tell their children to button up their coats and to pull on their hats and gloves so they don’t catch cold.
Sometimes, though, the youngsters gleefully remind them of what they learned in school: “Mom, Dad, colds are caused by viruses, not the cold air.”
The truth is, they’re both right.
Colds really are caused by viruses, so children who dispute their parents’ warnings are correct. But exposure to the low temperatures can weaken the immune system, which means that the parents are right as well.
“Most parents don’t know to say or explain to their children that just being out in the cold won’t make you [catch] cold. But if your nose starts to run, that opens you up and slows your immune system down and allows the virus to get into your body and gives you the cold,” said Dr. Tanya Baldwin of Mercy Family Physicians in Oregon.
“It’s exposure to the cold that can put a chink into your armor, which is your immune system.”
So parents should keep telling their children to bundle up as one way to ward off colds and flu. Dr. Baldwin suggested other ways to reduce the risk of getting sick such as drinking plenty of water, getting a lot of rest, and exercising.
“I think it’s all inclusive in order to have the body function at its optimum, you need to have some kind of physical activity,” she said, adding that “plenty of fluid allows the nutrients to get in the body and move around.”
And don’t cheat yourself out of rest, which is paramount to fighting these viruses. “Shoot for eight hours of rest, even if you’re not asleep the whole eight hours. The body recovers with eight hours of rest,” she added.
She also is a proponent of taking vitamins..
“I am a strong believer in supplements. When you supplement and get all the nutrients and get all the minerals and take multivitamins, your body has the ability to fight off what comes at it.”
Many people who comes down with a cold or flu thinks antibiotics will make them better. But those are caused by viruses, and antibiotics work against bacteria, Dr. Baldwin reiterated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting prescription antiviral drugs, and it’s especially important that the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and anyone with chronic illnesses see their doctors immediately, the CDC states.
While the CDC says that the first line of defense to minimizing the chance of getting the flu is to get a flu shot, sometimes people who follow that directive still get the flu. Dr. Baldwin has an explanation for that: The vaccine helps lessen the severity of the impact of the flu or respiratory diseases.
“Everyone is under the wrong impression that if you get a flu vaccine you won't get sick at all, and that is not correct," she said. "Getting the flu is not the problem. We can't prevent people from getting the flu, but we're trying to prevent severe complications of getting pneumonia or death from complications of the flu."
And while hand washing is critical to reducing the spread of the virus, Dr. Baldwin said the constant use of antibacterial soaps can have a negative effect.
"The thing that people aren't remembering is that they need to allow their immune systems to develop. We get into a panic and use antibacteria in everything, and it doesn't allow your natural immunity to develop. You don't want to have it significantly impact your daily activities, so wash your hands after normal activities," she said.
In homes where there are young children, it's practically a given that they'll take viruses home from day care and school that wind up making the whole family sick. But Dr. Baldwin said it's vital that parents look for day care centers that are accredited and whose caregivers follow sanitization guidelines for themselves and children.
As for sick adults, the CDC recommends they stay home for their own benefit as well as for their colleagues. And if you simply must go to the office, Dr. Baldwin said to consider wearing a mask, if employers allow them.
"If you're feeling under the weather and coughing, wearing a mask while at work could help. It's not possible in all situations, but it's a thought," she said.
Contact Rose Russell firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6178.