The temperature is dropping, and the days are getting shorter. As we head into winter, we are all at greater risk of catching colds (or worse). While it is not the weather, but viruses and bacteria that cause infections, your chances of falling ill still increase in the colder months:
• The cold seasons keep us inside, facilitating person-to-person infection and increasing exposure to viruses.
• Autumn also sees the start of schools and universities with the mixing of new student populations and thus exposure to new pathogens.
• Cold weather, as well as central heating, may dry out the inside lining of your nose, making it more susceptible to penetration by a virus (and more prone to nosebleeds!).
All of this puts an extra strain on your immune system, which may already be weakened by exam stress, lack of sleep and lack of daylight. It is therefore especially important to look after yourself and…
BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Since our last focus was on mental health, let me start with psychoneuroimmunology (PNI): there is an important link between mental health and our immune system.
Think positively! This releases the immune boosting hormone DHEA, while thinking negatively releases the immune suppressing hormone cortisol. Staying positive can help you stay healthy - that might be easier said than done, but try to focus on what is good in your life.
Spend time with friends and family (even if only online) and make space for things you enjoy. For example, why not watch a funny film in good company - there is truth in the old adage “laughter is the best medicine”!
Know what to eat and drink Keep your diet balanced and make sure you eat a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to give your body the vitamins it needs. Water also plays an important part in immune function - another reason to stay hydrated.
Get a good dose of natural light every day, ideally around midday. A brisk 20 or 30 minute walk during your lunch break will not only clear your head and prepare you for the afternoon, it also helps stimulate the production of Vitamin D, which is crucial for the functioning of your immune system. Please note that in this country, this is only the case during the summer months - during winter, sunlight of the critical wavelength does not reach the UK. But this dose of natural light will still boost your mood, as well as help your body stick to its natural circadian rhythm, which in turn will help you get a good night’s sleep. Regular exercise will also boost your immune system and help fight off infections. It increases blood flow, reduces stress and inflammation, and leads to increased activation of several different types of immune cells. If you are not engaged in any other form of regular exercise, walking is a great choice (and happens to be the best researched form of exercise!).
Get enough sleep This plays an important part in avoiding illness, as well as repairing your body during illness. Sleep is an essential tool in recovering from the day’s wear and tear. You should aim for at least seven, ideally nine hours of sleep a night, and more if you have an infection. Again, easier said than done, but very important. Lastly, taking vitamin supplements might be a good idea during times of increased demand on your stamina.
The best way to fight colds and flu (and Covid-19) is not to get them in the first place!
While there has been an established flu vaccination programme for decades, and news about emerging vaccines against SARS-CoV2 are very encouraging, hygiene measures remain paramount, and observing these measures help minimise the risk of catching any virus.
There have been no positive cases of Covid-19 at OIC to date and this is in great part owed to everybody’s vigilance and observation of these measures. Here is a quick reminder:
We all know the drill: wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance.
Staying away from infected people, keeping your hands away from your eyes and nose, washing your hands often and drying them properly (especially during the cold season) has always been good advice, but has gained mantra status since the emergence of Covid-19. Wear your mask properly and change it daily (and as soon as it has become moist). Sneeze/cough into a tissue (or the inside of your elbow, if no tissue at hand) and put it into a bin or flush it down the toilet (“catch it, bin it, kill it”). Don’t share: Avoid sharing food, utensils, glasses, water bottles, lip balm, and other things that could pass viruses. And remember to keep your distance!
THE FLU? A COLD? COVID-19? A common cold, the flu and Covid-19 share some symptoms such as fever, body aches and fatigue. A runny nose and scratchy throat are typical for a common cold, while fever and a sudden dry cough are typical of the flu. The main symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, a new, continuous cough and things suddenly smelling or tasting different to normal, but we know that it can present with many other symptoms.
The biggest difference is that colds are usually mild and last a few days; flu symptoms are generally worse and last longer. Covid-19 can be anything from asymptomatic to life-threatening, and even mild cases can turn into so-called “long Covid” which can leave a person suffering from symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog and headaches for months.
During this pandemic, you must alert your houseparent or a member of staff immediately if you have any flu-like symptoms – you need to get tested for COVID-19, even if your symptoms are mild.
YOU FOLLOWED ALL THE ADVICE AND YOU STILL CAUGHT A COLD?
Although usually minor, colds can make you feel miserable. There is no cure, but there are some things you can do to help yourself feel better.
• Get lots of rest
• keep warm
• stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, especially water (at least 8-10 glasses/day).
• eat a healthy diet
• keep the air around you moist (use a humidifier or simply put wet towels on your radiator)
If you are feeling really miserable, there are several types of medicines that can lessen some of your symptoms (but again, there is no “cure”). Remember to always check with your houseparent first if in doubt!
• saline nasal spray or decongestants for a blocked nose
• Throat lozenges for a sore throat
• paracetamol or ibuprofen for fever, aches and pains
Boarding staff will be there to support you and make sure you have all you need to get better soon!
Dr Eva Sommer, Head of Health and Wellbeing