Winter is on its way, but the cold weather isn’t the only thing to contend with. Millions of people come down with a dreaded winter illness every year, but what are the most common, and can you avoid them?
Why Do so Many People Get Sick in the Winter?
During the winter months, it seems you can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone with “that bug that seems to be going around”. Then, before you know it, you’re cooped up under the covers, drinking all the tea and honey and taking paracetamol every four hours, just hoping that your nose will unblock long enough for you to be able to taste your food.
Viruses thrive in colder temperatures because there’s no humidity, so they stay in the environment for longer. On top of that, we tend to spend more time indoors to keep warm, so it only takes being near someone feeling under the weather to catch it ourselves.
Common Winter Illnesses to Watch out For
Cold weather can be particularly problematic if you’re older or have an existing health condition, but winter illnesses can affect anyone.
The Common Cold
We’re all familiar with the common cold. Common symptoms include a sore throat, cough, headache, runny nose and sneezing. As it’s a viral infection, there’s not much you can do about it except take pain relief and decongestants, drink plenty of fluids and wait for it to get out of your system.
The flu can feel like a bad cold, but it often comes on suddenly and can be serious. You’ll often experience all the common symptoms of a cold, along with a fever and achy muscles.
Like a cold, flu is a viral infection, so there’s little you can do once you have it apart from treating the symptoms and avoiding contact with others to minimise the spread.
Sinus infections happen when your sinuses become blocked with fluid, allowing bacteria to grow. Any condition that blocks your sinuses can lead to a sinus infection, including a cold, which is why this illness is so common during the winter months.
If you have cold symptoms for more than 10 days and have a thick, yellow discharge in your nose or pressure around your eyes, you may have a sinus infection. While antihistamines and decongestants can help reduce inflammation and clear the blockage, you may be prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection.
While not a winter illness per se, cold weather can aggravate this respiratory condition.
Cold air is dry, which can make you produce more mucus and make it harder than usual for you to breathe. Having asthma can also make winter illnesses like a cold or the flu more severe and increase your risk of developing a chest infection.
While we’ve made great strides towards fighting COVID-19, we’re not out of the woods yet, and cases are again on the rise. With so many people already battling winter bugs, there’s every chance that infection rates will continue to increase.
How to Avoid an Illness This Winter
So what can you do to avoid catching a winter illness this year? While it’s impossible to eliminate the risk entirely, you can take preventative measures to keep you and your family safe.
Wash Your Hands
We all know the importance of washing our hands, but if there’s a time to double down on hand-washing, it’s in the winter. Cold and flu germs linger on surfaces for longer at this time of year, so washing your hands before you eat, when you’ve been to the bathroom, and when you arrive home after going out will help reduce the likelihood of germs finding a way into your body.
Get the Flu Jab
Getting the seasonal flu jab is the best way to protect yourself from this nasty illness. Those aged 50 or over, pregnant or who have an existing health condition are eligible for the flu vaccine on the NHS, but flu can affect anyone. If you’re concerned about getting the flu and can’t get the jab at your local surgery, you can get the flu vaccine at a private GP practice.
Prevention is better than cure, and exercising regularly is an effective, easy and free way to build your immune system and keep winter illnesses at bay. Being out in the fresh air helps you avoid being close to others who are sick while exercising suppresses stress hormones and boosts your white blood cell count. Just remember to wrap up warm if you’re heading outside, especially if you have asthma or a weakened immune system.
Follow the Guidelines
COVID-19 regulations may have been relaxed, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still follow them if you’re concerned about being ill this winter.
With so many of us spending the last 18 months in lockdowns and minimising social contact, our bodies haven’t had the chance to build immunity. It’s even led to some people experiencing what many are calling a “super cold”. Practising social distancing and wearing a mask can help prevent you from breathing in germs that could particularly knock you about, protecting you not just from COVID-19 but other illnesses too.
The cold season can be challenging for us all, but taking precautions can make a world of difference and keep you and your loved ones fighting fit this winter.