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It’s that time of year again. The cold weather has set in, and viruses are rife. Flu season can be miserable for even the healthiest of people – but for those who live with chronic illness, catching a cold or flu can truly wreak havoc on our bodies.

But there are steps we can take to reduce our chances of contracting these viruses, and also ways in which we can minimise the damage caused to our health, should we fall ill.

Practical tips to help prevent colds and flu

Many of us living with chronic illness are at a higher risk of contracting viruses, such as a cold or flu, because our bodies don’t function as well as healthy people’s. But we can take steps to reduce our chances of catching viruses, and introduce practices that can try to help boost our bodies natural immunity.

Here are a few tips, some are quite obvious and apply to everyone, while others may just be relevant to those who have a chronic illness:

1. Wash your hands frequently

Washing your hands often throughout the day is probably the single most effective measure to prevent the spread of the common cold and germs in general. The cold virus usually spreads via mucus and saliva from people’s noses and mouths, which gets on to their hands and everything they touch.

2. Avoid touching your face

The cold virus reproduces in your upper respiratory system, so it needs to get into your nose, mouth or eyes to infect you. As such, in addition to washing your hands, avoid touching or rubbing your face, especially your nose, mouth and eye areas.

3. Disinfectant spray/gel

If you are unable to wash your hands regularly, a disinfectant hand gel may be a good options. Also, by keeping surfaces clean using a disinfectant spray you can help to stop the spread of viruses.

4. Wear a Mask

During flu season, many people may choose to wear face masks to help prevent the transmission of bacteria and viruses. Studies have suggested masks may not be 100 percent effective at stopping the spread potentially harmful airborne particles, but they can help reduce the risk of contamination.

This is something I’ve been considering, but not yet tried. If my husband picks up a virus or if my carers are ill but still working, I believe a mask for me would be an extra barrier for prevention.

5. Ask family members and carers to wear gloves

As I’m housebound, my risk of picking up a virus is limited to my husband, family and friends visiting, and my carers. My care agency has a policy that all carers should wear disposable protective gloves, sadly not all carers abide by this rule. But as carers are preparing my food, I always insist they wear gloves, or at the very least use a disinfectant hand gel, which I have at home.

6. Stay well away from people who are visibly ill

This may sound obvious but avoidance of sick people is also a very good strategy to prevent getting the common cold. It’s not always obvious who is ill, but start by keeping your distance from people who are repeatedly coughing, sneezing and/or sniffing.

7. Drink plenty of fluids

Drinking lots of fluid throughout the day is important for protecting against viral and bacterial infections because the mucus membranes lining your nose, sinuses, mouth, throat and lungs need water to remain moist and protective. This first line of defense against germs is called the mucociliary clearance system and it depends on good hydration to function well.

Boosting Immunity Naturally

I know our chronically ill bodies do not react the same way as healthy body’s, but we can take steps to boost our natural immunity and give our bodies a better chance of fighting viruses.

8. Immune boosting foods and supplements

Foods rich in vitamins A and C such as citrus fruit, dark blue and red berries, mangoes, apricots, carrots and beetroot support the immune system. In addition, avoid refined sugar as much as possible as this can interfere with both digestion and the immune system.

But if diet restrictions mean you are unable to consume all the vitamins and minerals your body needs, you may want to consider taking supplements to boost your natural immunity.

  • Take vitamins. Taking a daily multivitamin is especially important in the winter when we may be less likely to be eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables, and are also more at risk from infection.
  • Supplements that may boost immune system: Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, Echinacea, probiotics.
  • Take Probiotics. Probiotics such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, are ‘friendly’ bacteria in our intestines and increasingly recognised for their importance not only in maintaining a healthy digestive system, but for improving the body’s natural defence mechanisms.

    Studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements can improve the body’s resistance to bacterial and viral infections.
  • Take CBD oil. CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). One of the main functions of the ECS is to regulate immune system response. So, by taking CBD oil, we can actually boost our bodies natural defenses and help prevent catching viruses, and increase our bodies ability to fight them. If you would like to learn more about CBD and how it works within the body, please read: How CBD works. The endocannabinoid system explained.

9. Stay warm and dry

Although getting physically cold is not the direct cause of the common cold (it’s a viral infection), it can reduce your immune system’s function because your body needs to spend its energy on maintaining an internal temperature of around 36.7°C or so. Therefore, keeping yourself warm allows your body to expend energy on the immune system if needed.

10. Sleep is essential

Good quality sleep is essential for strong immunity because it’s during sleep that your immune system recharges. Research suggests that people who get eight or more hours of sleep per night are less likely to come down with a cold compared to those who sleep for fewer than seven hours. I know this isn’t easy for those of us living with ill-health, especially chronic pain, but we can adapt our sleeping routine where possible.

11. Consider getting the flu jab

Prevention is the key. The flu jab is considered to be the best preventive measure by many. But people living with chronic illnesses can sometimes react badly to medication or anything alien in their body. The pros and cons of having the flu jab need to be weighed up and the decision whether or not to have it, needs to be decided by each individual.

I personally have severe ME/CFS and I react particularly badly to all meds, so I have decided not to have the flu jab. But the decision is yours and yours alone.

There is no simple answer as to whether you should have a flu vaccine if you have a chronic illness. The ME Association has compiled an article which provides you with the most up to date information on all aspects of flu vaccination, so you can make an informed decision. The points discussed are not just relevant to ME/CFS, but also most other chronic illnesses.

Self care tips for when cold and flu viruses hit

No matter how many precautions we include in our lives, we cannot always avoid catching viruses.

There are, however, a few steps we can take to help our bodies cope should we fall ill, and also ways in which we can minimise the damage caused to our health.

1. Rest and be kind to yourself

The colder weather often brings with it an increase in our symptoms, most notably pain. This can mean we are already tired and run down. Therefore, it is especially important that we rest and look after ourselves. We may need to adjust our daily routine to allow additional rest breaks or include extra self care habits. Taking the extra time to look after ourselves may actually reduce our risk of picking up viruses but also give us enough reserves of energy for our bodies to fight colds if they appear.

I don’t know about you, but when I have a cold I crave comfort food and I lack any motivation. Don’t beat yourself up about needing extra rest or for eating whatever makes you feel a bit better.

2. Eat a nutritious diet or include supplements

If a cold virus gets into your body it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get sick because your immune system is designed to kill viruses, bacteria and other invaders. I know our bodies do not work as efficiently as healthy bodies but we can help boost our immune system by eating nutritious food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, with each meal. If you diet is restricted, you may want to add some vitamin and mineral supplements.

3. Herbal remedies

Echinacea may reduce the severity and duration of symptoms when taken during the early stages. But this isn’t backed up by any evidence.

CBD oil. For the same reasons as included in the preventative section, CBD oil really is a great natural way to boost our bodies ability to fight viruses.

Vitamin supplements. I have already mentioned vitamin C, D and zinc to boost immunity, these are just as important after contracting a virus, as they are a preventative.  

4. Essential Oils

I do not use essential oils myself because I’m hypersensitive to fragrances, but I know a lot of people find they provide multiple benefits when viruses hit.

  • Diffusing essential oils can help cleanse the air and clean surfaces. (cinnamon, rosemary and clove)
  • Adding essential oils (diluted in a carrier oil) to hot water and inhaling the steam to open up your nasal passages (such as lemon or peppermint)
  • Applying essential oils (diluted in carrier oil) topically, as some have antiseptic, antiviral and antibacterial properties (such as oregano, thyme and eucalyptus)

5. Over-the-counter medicines

There are many over-the-counter remedies that can help ease the discomfort caused by cold and flu viruses. These can often reduce symptoms such as, fever, sore throat, headaches, general aches and pains, and congestion.

6. “kind” tissues with aloe vera

Frequently blowing your nose when you have a cold or flu, can lead to skin irritation. This irritation can become painful, but using tissues containing aloe vera can reduce the discomfort.

For me, breakage of the skin inevitably leads to cold sores. Yep, I get cold sores on my nose. I swear by Aloe Vera tissues in preventing irritation and cold sores, in fact I use them all year round.

7. Stay hydrated

Good hydration is just as essential when we have a cold or flu, as it is as a preventative. It doesn’t just have to be boring water though. I personally find orange juice and herbal teas comforting when I have a cold. Lemon & ginger, echinacea and elderberry are my go-to herbal teas, adding a teaspoon of honey can help ease a sore throat.

Hopefully, by following a few practical tips you can survive the dreaded cold and flu season. Do whatever you need to do to survive. Listen to your body, rest as much as you can to give your body chance to fight the virus, and most importantly, be kind to yourself.

Do you have any tips you would like to add? Any home remedies you swear by?

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