Knowing how to stay healthy during the flu season does more than just ensure that you can partake fully in holiday celebrations (although those are important!). Keeping yourself healthy during the flu season can also help you prevent spreading illness, and protect others around you from getting sick, especially those whose health is vulnerable.
The flu is a nuisance to some, but to others, it can quickly turn serious. Even with medical advances and the advent of vaccines, the CDC estimates that annual deaths from the flu have ranged between 12,000 and 61,000 each year for the past 10 years. The flu also results in millions of hospitalizations each year, which often puts undue strain on hospital resources.
Avoid being stuck in bed with the flu and help protect the health of your loved ones by observing the following tips for how to stay healthy during the flu season.
How do you stay well during the flu season?
1. Get the flu vaccine
Flu vaccines help your B-cells’ antibodies (proteins that help neutralize bacteria and viruses and send signals to your immune system) combat each year’s most common strain of the flu.
The flu season typically starts in October and runs through February. Since it takes your body around two weeks to create the antibodies needed, it’s best to get your vaccine BEFORE the end of October. (Vaccines are typically first released in September or early October.)
The antibodies created as a result of the vaccine will stick around for around six months before their numbers begin to dwindle again. For that reason — and because the primary strain of flu changes each year — you need to get a new flu vaccine annually for them to be effective.
Most people find it easiest to get their flu vaccine at a local pharmacy such as Walgreens or CVS. You can also get a flu vaccine at most doctor’s offices. If your workplace offers flu vaccinations, consider taking advantage of that resource.
Complete Care offers the flu vaccine at only our Urgent Care facilities in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Lakeway, Texas.
2. Practice healthy habits
One of the most overlooked keys to knowing how to stay healthy during the flu season? Staying healthy in general. Many of us struggle to maintain best practices with regard to healthy habits when it isn’t cold and flu season. But since the cold and flu season coincides with the holiday season — a time of both immense joy and immense stress — it’s that much more important (and difficult) to practice healthy habits during those months.
So, how do I prepare my body for the flu, you ask? Here’s a quick-hit list of what steps you can take to keep your immune system up and running effectively.
- Get adequate sleep: Studies have shown that the activity of T-cells, which also play an important immunological role in fighting illnesses, is severely disturbed by sleep deprivation. It’s recommended that adults get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night, while children and teens typically need a minimum of 8 hours.
- Hydrate: Proper hydration helps boost your immune system’s ability to function properly, helps remove toxins from the blood, and increases the production of lymph (which aids in the circulation of white blood cells). That’s one reason why, when you go to the ER with an emergency and you’re dehydrated, your nurses will be quick to hook you up to ER emergency fluids.
- Eat well: Eating healthy foods helps boost the presence of important vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin A, which in turn support a robust immune system.
- Exercise: Need another reason to exercise? It has been shown that regular exercise helps enhance your immune system’s ability to fight illness. Just make sure you don’t jump too quickly into an overly intense exercise regime right off the bat, as doing so may actually have the opposite effect temporarily.
- Stress management: Stress is a normal part of life, and sometimes it can’t be avoided. However, managing your stress during the cold and flu season can lower your chances of getting sick. Stress also releases the hormone corticosteroid, which suppresses the number of your body’s lymphocytes (your body’s B- and T-cells). If you are chronically stressed, that can result in the chronic suppression of these important cells and make your immune system much less effective when you need it most.
3. Wash your hands
This healthy habit is important enough to deserve a section in and of itself. Washing your hands gets rid of germs that we pick up in the course of our day by touching other objects or people. It is especially important to wash your hands after going to the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, and before eating. If getting the flu vaccine, getting enough sleep, managing your stress… or any of these other means for how to stay healthy during the flu season feel unattainable, commit to washing your hands with soap and clean, running water for 20 seconds. When you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer.
4. Keep your hands away from your face
Part of the reason it’s so important to wash your hands is that people often touch their face without thinking. It’s much easier for germs to enter your body and get you sick when they are transported to your face. Nail-biting, pimple popping, itching… try to identify why you are touching your face and take steps to break the habit.
5. Additional preventative flu measures
You can’t spend every minute of every day trying to avoid the flu. But if you want to take a few extra preventative measures, here are a few more tips for how to stay healthy during the flu season.
- Avoid high-traffic areas: Grocery stores, malls, restaurants, playgrounds… these places are centers of life and, like it or not, centers for the exchange of germs. Depending on how vulnerable your health is, you may wish to take steps to avoid places like these during the cold and flu season. If you wish to avoid these places but cannot, consider wearing a facemask to reduce your chances of being exposed to the flu.
- Clean frequently used surfaces: Table tops, your cell phone, door and sink handles, keyboards, game controllers and TV remotes, light switches… if you and other people touch it a lot, disinfect it a lot.
- Do your laundry: When we think about disinfecting surfaces and items that we touch frequently, we frequently overlook our clothes and linens. Should your immune system not be up to snuff, staying on top of the items piled up in your laundry basket is another way to protect yourself from getting the flu.
Special flu considerations for children
While many of us feel somewhat capable of controlling our own exposure to the flu, it can be difficult to know what to do for our kids. One day, you hear another kid in your carpool sneeze and, once home, you start frantically Googling: How do I protect my child during the flu season? What should I do if my child has the flu?
Children over 6 months can and should get the flu vaccine. Do what you can to make sure your children are eating healthy, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and hand washing. If your children’s school does not have adequate access to tissues, hand sanitizer, soap, and other sanitary products, consider packing some for your child to take with them.
And finally, if your child isn’t feeling well, don’t hesitate to pull them out of school. Doing so will allow them to get more rest and will help reduce their risk of infecting other students.
Special flu considerations for the elderly
Elderly individuals may wish to take extra precautions during the flu season, as they are more at risk for developing serious flu complications. Getting the flu shot, remaining diligent about maintaining healthy habits, hand washing — all of the tips for how to stay healthy during the flu season we have mentioned are that much more important in these cases.
Elderly individuals who anticipate spending time at large family gatherings should feel comfortable requesting that those who plan to attend only do so if they are sure that they are in good health.
Special flu considerations for the workplace
Flu outbreaks in the workplace are more common than they should be. Employees and employers who insist on coming to work when they feel sick for the sake of “productivity” are actually just increasing the likelihood of the whole office being sidelined by a flu outbreak.
If you are an employer, then do what you can to encourage employees who are not feeling well to stay at home. If you are an employee who is feeling under the weather, request to stay at home.
Of course, we recognize that not all workplaces are accommodating to sick employees. Should you work for a company that encourages employees to work despite being sick, do your best to up your preventative flu measures and to keep cleaning products at-hand for regular sanitization of your work space.
If your flu becomes severe, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention
Knowing how to stay healthy during the flu season is a powerful tool. Unfortunately, even the most careful of us will occasionally get sick with the flu. While the average person experiences flu symptoms for 5-7 days, the flu can create serious complications and/or develop into more serious illnesses.
Children who are experiencing flu complications such as trouble breathing, a fever over 102°F, extreme dehydration, blue lips, or who are experiencing severe muscle pain should be taken to the emergency room.
Adults who are experiencing flu complications such as trouble breathing or severe chest pain, dehydration (no urination), severe muscle pain, or persistent dizziness should also go to an emergency room.
At Complete Care, our stand alone emergency room facilities are able to offer our patients with the same level of care as an emergency room attached to a hospital, but without the wait time. We are open 24/7 and are typically able to see walk-ins within a few minutes, not hours.
If you or a loved one is experiencing severe symptoms of complications from the flu, do not hesitate to visit your nearest Complete Care location today for quick, efficient, patient-centered care.
Get in. Get out. Get back to life.
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