It's Time for Sniffles, Coughs, Aches and Pains - NBC4 Washington

It's Time for Sniffles, Coughs, Aches and Pains

How to avoid the onset of winter illnesses



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    Fight back against winter colds and illnesses.

    It starts with a sniffle, maybe a slight cough.  Then, boom.  You’ve suddenly got a cold, which unexpectedly crept up faster than the tortoise on the hare.

    Colds are, no doubt, misery-inducing, along with the other varieties of winter illnesses like the flu.  These types of sicknesses become more prevalent during the winter months, because people spend more time indoors.  Cram in a room full of people this winter, and you’re likely to hear a variety of snorting and wheezing, combined with an array of other cringe-inducing verbs.

    Unfortunately, as the Food and Drug Administration explains, there’s no cure or vaccination available for the common cold; such vaccinations are ultimately impossible to engineer because of the overabundance of cold strains. 

    How do you know if you have the cold or the flu?  Stuffy, runny noses and constant sneezing are symptoms inclusive of colds; coughing and sore throats are an additional double whammy of symptoms, adding insult to injury.  In contrast to colds, the flu attacks suddenly, and (along with cold symptoms) the flu may additionally slam you with the likes of a fever, chills, aches and oftentimes dry cough -- making for an overall list of not so fun times.

    It’s not always easy to escape from enclosed environments, especially if you work in an office -- where germs are frequently flying throughout the air.  Do you hear that cubicle neighbor of yours, hacking and sneezing?  Don’t be surprised if she’s not properly covering her mouth.

    “Being sick means we fall behind in our work, and we can’t afford a day off here,” said D.C. resident Renée Schapiro, an executive assistant at a Bethesda-based concert promoter.  “I work about 40 to 60 hours a week.  And if we don’t keep up, we risk losing our jobs.  It’s just the way it is, I guess.”

    So instead of just sitting there in your swiveling desk chair, fight back against the likes of your germ-spewing coworker, and take a stance against bacteria by, first and foremost, keeping your hands clean. 

    “When coworkers are coughing and sneezing, it is best to wash your hands frequently.  If water is unavailable, use hand sanitizers,” said Fleta H. Sokal, M.D.

    Additionally, bleach-based solutions and wipes should be a staple in the office -- be adamant in wiping down your keyboard, telephone and desk (and even chair handles) at least once a week.

    “Keeping my desk area clean is the best precaution I can take,” Schapiro said.

    If you’re wondering why the insistence of cleaning cubicle-house, think of how many communal office items you touch per day, like the copier, stapler and coffee machine.  Germs housed on items like these are then carried, by way of your hands, back to your desk.  If you’re typing up a report at your computer and have the urge to rub your eye, keep your digits away from your face and wipe with a tissue, instead.

    In addition to general practices of cleanliness, the FDA encourages eating a balanced diet, getting an adequate amount of sleep, exercising and keeping stress in check as important factors in maintaining your health.  Eating foods like fruits, vegetables and protein fuel the body with vitamins, minerals and general sources of energy to boost the body’s immune system. 

    “I rest, eat healthy, exercise and wash my hands. I am lucky to have good genes and have no underlying medical problems,” said Dr. Sokal. “I would recommend meditation and yoga to help the body relax.”

    But despite the hand washing and the healthy eating, what if the worst strikes and you’re suddenly overcome with sickness?  One of the most important steps to fast recovery is to get rest -- that means throwing on your PJs, fluffing up those pillows and hopping under the sheets.

    In addition to catching some z’s, drink non-processed fluids like water and hot tea to loosen mucus, and avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine of any sort, since both have a tendency to dehydrate.

    “When I am sick I try to drink more fluids,” stated Dr. Sokal.  Additionally, consider purchasing a humidifier to relieve congestion, and maybe try gargling salt water to alleviate any discomfort brought on by a sore throat.

    In terms of self-medicating, select an over-the-counter medication that matches your specific symptoms -- added meds to alleviate other non-existent symptoms can be harmful to the body.  Pay attention to side effects, too, like the “may-cause-drowsiness” labeling that often appears on packages.

    As the holidays approach, take extra care to combat colds and other illnesses, because seasonal merriment just isn’t the same if you’re doped up on antihistamines. 

    If you’re still wary of your cube neighbor, try plopping a bottle of sanitizer and some tissues on her desk.  Meanwhile, wash your hands, eat well and sanitize -- everything.