DON’T GET TOUCHY
Every time someone with a cold or flu coughs they release around 3,000 germ-laden droplets at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour.
A sneeze spreads 40,000 droplets at more than 200mph. Yet Alasdair Mace, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Charing Cross and St Mary’s hospitals in London, says: “A lot of infections are actually spread by touch.”
Researchers at the University of Virginia confirm that 35 per cent of the surfaces touched by someone with a cold will harbour the rhinovirus for up to 18 hours. Alasdair advises washing your hands as soon as you get home or arrive at work, and carrying a bottle of hand sanitiser when you’re on the move.
Family GP Dr Paul Stillman, says: “Use tissues rather than a hanky and pop them into a resealable plastic bag to reduce the spread of germs.”
SLEEP ON IT
Getting a good night’s rest can help protect against sniffles. A recent study of identical twins with different sleep patterns found that lack of sleep suppresses immunity.
Sleep deprivation has also been shown to reduce the efficacy of flu jabs.
Dr Stillman says: “We often feel run down when we’re tired but there is now a lot of research confirming this link between sleep and immunity.”
He advises: “Aim for at least seven hours a night. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid caffeinated drinks and screens of any sort for at least an hour before bedtime.”
Dr Stillman says: “There’s some truth in the tale that you’re more likely to catch a cold when you are feeling cold. Rhinovirus replicates more readily at low temperatures and our immune response is also impaired by the cold.”
Researchers at Yale have shown that our immune system produces fewer infection-fighting proteins, called interferons, when we’re cold.
Every time someone with a cold or flu coughs they release around 3,000 germ-laden droplets
A diet high in fruit and veg is proven to raise immune function and lack of vitamin D which is common in winter, lowers immunity. Public Health England says we should consider taking a vitamin D supplement in the colder months.
Noel Wicks, a pharmacist and board member of the National Pharmacy Association, says: “There is so little vitamin D in food it’s virtually impossible to get enough from diet alone. “Alive! Immune Support is one of the few multivitamins which provides the recommended 10mcg of vitamin D with the addition of vitamin C, zinc and other nutrients which support immune function.” (Nature’s Way Alive! Immune Support 60 Soft Jell Tablets, £14.99, Holland & Barrett).
Alasdair adds: “Some trials have suggested vitamin C can reduce the duration of colds, particularly in combination with zinc.”
A sore throat is usually the first cold or flu symptom to strike. Alasdair advises gargling with a solution of two teaspoons of salt to a litre of water but says: “Make it cold water, not warm. Cold things are much more soothing.
“Anaesthetic throat sprays are also very useful because they are fast-acting and you can target relief where it’s needed. Benzocaine will provide the most rapid pain relief.”
Noel adds: “The only over-thecounter spray which contains benzocaine is Ultra Chloraseptic.
“I recommend it as it provides almost instant relief and unlike pain-relieving lozenges, the spray numbs the source of the pain, not the mouth and tongue.” (Ultra Chloraseptic Anaesthetic Throat Spray, £5.99 for 15ml/ Children’s Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray 15ml, £4.99 for 15ml, Superdrug).
A sore throat is usually the first cold or flu symptom to strike
OFF THE COUGH
We spend millions on medicines for coughs during winter but experts are not convinced it’s money well spent.
An influential Cochrane Review concluded: “We found no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of over-the-counter medications in acute cough.”
Professor Alyn Morice, a respiratory expert based at the University of Hull, says: “Although the labels on products claim there are different types of cough this is essentially a marketing gimmick.”
Dr Stillman says: “The key is to use some sort of demulcent which coats and soothes sensitised nerves in the throat. A simple linctus or a home remedy of honey and lemon will usually do the trick.”
Medical herbalist Dr Chris Etheridge adds: “Icelandic moss and mallow, which are used in Throaty Soothe syrup or lozenges, have proven demulcent properties and are very good at calming irritated mucous membranes.”
In one observational study doctors reported a 60 per cent improvement in children with irritation of the pharynx and dry cough. (Throaty Soothe syrup, £6.99 for 100ml, amazon.co.uk).
Dr Etheridge adds: “Unlike other over-the-counter cough remedies, Throaty Soothe syrup can be given to children from 12 months of age.”
Drink lots of water and avoid coffee and alcohol as they dry the throat
GO WITH THE FLOW
Alasdair says: “Drink lots of water and avoid coffee and alcohol as they dry the throat. Humidifiers can help relieve congestion and a sore throat but a damp towel on a radiator will have the same effect.”
Dr Stillman adds: “Chicken soup is sometimes described as Jewish penicillin and several studies have shown it can actually help.”
University of Nebraska studies found chicken soup has antiinfl ammatory properties which ease upper respiratory tract infections.
PICK THE RIGHT PILL
Noel advises: “If you have a temperature or headache take paracetamol rather than ibuprofen as there is some evidence that ibuprofen can prolong symptoms in adults.”
One study found that between 50 and 70 per cent of patients with respiratory tract infections had worsening or new symptoms within a month of taking ibuprofen.