June 8, 2018

How I stay well during Winter

By dryeongs

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I see around 30-40 patients each day and during Winter, I’d say at least 90% of them are for coughs and colds. So that’s around 30-something times I come face to face with a coughing, sneezing, spluttering patient covered in germs.

So how come I never get sick?

Today’s post is about how I stay well during the cough and cold season and how you can, too.

Firstly, a couple of facts about the good ol’ cough and cold.

The fancy name for the cold is an upper respiratory tract infection, and these are primarily caused by bacteria or viruses.

How can you tell if it’s caused by a bacteria or a virus? Short of doing a test on a sample from your throat, we can’t tell just by looking at you. And contrary to popular belief, yellow mucous doesn’t always mean it’s a bacterial infection.

While the majority of infections are simple viral infections that your immune system can take care of on its own, sometimes things can get a bit more serious. If you experience ongoing fevers, chest pain, shortness of breath, or you’re really feeling quite unwell, you should see your GP immediately or visit the hospital.

Having said that, so many of my patients come in wanting antibiotics because they think those little tablets will stop their symptoms and allow them to go back to work. Unfortunately most infections are viral in nature, meaning those antibiotics are useless and may even promote antibiotics resistance and become even less useful in the future.

The key to staying well in Winter is simple: Take care of yourself.

Many people think the only way to prevent infection is by staying away. You wouldn’t believe the number of times patients sit as far away from me as possible, so they don’t pass me their germs. Unfortunately, by then it’s too late! You’re contagious even before you show obvious symptoms, and in our close-knit modern community, bugs are so easily shared- on the train ride to work, in the communal kitchen at work, by family members in the home. So if you can’t run away from them, then what are you supposed to do? Build up your defenses against them. And your best defense is your immune system.

Whenever you get a viral infection, your immune system is notified immediately, and starts getting to work on getting you better straight away. If you’re not taking care of yourself physically, then you aren’t doing your immune system any favours.

Everyone always asks if there is something they can take to “build their immune system.” There are many supplements and vitamins all purporting to ward off the cold and improve your immune system, but the truth is, the scientific evidence for these things is pretty sparse. Rather than spending your money on those things, save it for your next holiday and go back to basics:

A good night’s sleep. I always make sure I get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. I prioritize sleep above many things, because I know that while I sleep, my body is recovering and repairing. Why do you think you always feel so fatigued and tired when you’re unwell? It’s your immune system’s way of getting you to rest so it can concentrate on what it does best- getting you better.

A healthy diet. Both the quality and the quantity. I always make sure I eat regular meals and eat when I’m hungry. Food is what gives your body nourishment, and helps to keep everything working properly, including your immune system. If you aren’t eating regularly, your stress hormone levels may increase, and this can impact on your immune system. Furthermore, I include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and wholegrains in my diet to ensure I am getting all of the necessary vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin C and Vitamin D- two vitamins necessary for good immune function. Read this to find out what I think about multivitamins.

Regular exercise. I do some form of physical activity most days of the week. If you’d like to know a little more about how I exercise, check  this post out. Exercise, when used in conjunction with the other elements on this list, is one of your greatest defenses against the common cold. But of course, you can go too far. If you’re always exercising intensely, and not eating sufficient calories for your needs, or never giving yourself a rest day, then you can go too far and put more pressure on your immune system. One of the most common signs of overtraining is frequent respiratory tract infections. So be sensible and listen to your body.

Stress management. I often get high-powered, busy professionals coming in and saying, “this is the 4th time I’ve gotten sick this month. Is there a blood test I can do to make sure there’s nothing wrong with me?” And my next question is always, “Have you been stressed out lately?” Inevitably, they will have been pulling long hours at the office, skipping meals to get things done, or not sleeping well because they’ve been worrying about something. Stress can affect your ability to take care of yourself, but even stress itself can affect your immune system in a detrimental way. The best way to combat this is through techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and giving yourself a break. Make some time to prioritize yourself, whether it’s an hour or ten minutes. Do something you like to do that relaxes you. Watch Netflix. Read a book. Watch cat videos on YouTube. Listen to some music. Don’t feel guilty about the thousand and one other things you need to do. Make a schedule of all your responsibilities and schedule in a break for yourself. Whenever I’m planning my diary for the week, I always make sure I have at least 3 nights at home, and at least one of those nights I watch a fun, silly movie, just to relax.

And one final things? Wash your hands. We constantly touch our face and our mouths without thinking, which makes our hands a great medium for passing on germs. What with seeing so many sick people a day, I always wash my hands or use alcoholic hand sanitizer after every patient encounter. But this applies to everyone. We see so many different people in our day-to-day life- in public, at work, at home, when we’re socializing. Make sure to wash your hands at regular intervals, and always wash your hands before eating.

And that’s it- my tips for how I stay well during Winter. If you’d like to read more, please subscribe to my blog. If you’d like to see me for a medical consultation in person, please check out my contact details.