As we head into a new season with chillier temperatures, keep in mind these 3 helpful tips for preventing a cold or the flu. The easiest way to prevent the flu for older adults and really just about anyone, is to get the influenza vaccination each year. The “flu shot” is a vaccine that helps protect you from the flu virus and takes effect in your body within about two weeks. Flu season is typically October through March and it is recommended that you get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available in your area.

Here are 3 simple tips to help prevent cold and flu this season:

1.) Hand washing is an easy habit to adopt this flu season, as most cold and flu viruses are transmitted on the hands. Wash your hands frequently throughout the day with soap and warm water. Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. Another helpful tip is to disinfect frequently used surfaces in your home to avoid direct contact. Things you do everyday such as cooking or eating in the kitchen and brushing your teeth in the bathroom are a few examples of areas you should spend time disinfecting.

2.) Personal health is a must while trying to avoid the flu and/or a cold so make it a priority! Maintaining a healthy and well balanced diet, getting exercise on a regular basis, getting adequate rest each night, taking vitamins, incorporating herbal medicine or products, and drinking plenty of fluids are some examples of ways to incorporate healthy habits into your daily routine. Be sure to consult with your physician before introducing any new vitamins or supplements into your daily routine to ensure no adverse side effects or reactions occur from current medications you might be taking.

3.) Avoid those who are sick. Limit time you usually spend in “high traffic” places such as your local gym, senior center, or local library. It is also very important that you avoid the same type of public places if you yourself are experiencing symptoms in order to eliminate spreading the flu virus onto others. Simply put, stay home if you are sick and be sure to cover your coughs and sneezes.

“Germs like the flu spread when people touch their eyes, nose, mouth, or even the food that they eat,” explains Dr. Tyeese L. Gaines, board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician and Medical Director of UltraMed Urgent Care in Skokie, Illinois. “It’s a good habit to always wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub, but especially during flu season. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.”

People often ask what the difference between a cold and the flu is and the answer is that they are caused by two different types of viruses. Flu symptoms can be more severe in nature whereas cold symptoms are a bit more mild and do not typically cause serious complications for older adults such as hospitalization.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists these as the most common flu symptoms:

  • Fever or chills (though not everyone will experience this symptom)
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Seek treatment as soon as possible if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms to decrease the duration of the flu.

The CDC recommends getting the flu shot before the end of October and that will come up before we know it, as this time of year tends to fly by! Check with your doctor and set up an appointment sooner rather than later to ensure you are protecting yourself this upcoming cold and flu season.