Common cold prevention: 7 simple ways to STOP a cold before it starts

Flu: Expert reveals differences between flu and common cold

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You’ve probably heard talk from your friends and family about a ‘super cold’ that seems to be sweeping the UK. It might not be Covid, but there’s no denying that lots of people are suffering from coughs, colds and other infections. Scared of coming down with this normally harmless illness? Here’s how to stop a cold before it even starts, according to the team at ColdZyme and Aisling Moran, Nutritional Scientist at Thriva.

Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggests that calls to 111 about cold and flu symptoms are increasing and above expected levels, particularly among patients aged 15 to 44.

However, even though everyone you know might seem to have a cold, there is no evidence to suggest that the cold in circulation is a particularly virulent strain of the common cold.

The answer may lie in the fact that we aren’t socially distant or wearing masks as much as we were before, so there is an increase in common cold viruses like adenovirus, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus.

Fear not, here are seven things you can do to reduce your risk of catching a cold.

Wash your hands

Colds are spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

One of the best ways to avoid catching a cold is therefore all to do with washing your hands and avoiding touching shared items.

Nutritional scientist Aisling Moran said: “Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds can help protect you from developing an infection if you’ve been exposed.

“If you can’t wash your hands, using an alcohol gel with an alcohol level of at least 60 percent is the next best thing.”

Take supplements

Keeping healthy and maintaining a nutritious diet will help you ward off colds and fight them off if you catch them.

Aisling said: “A healthy balanced diet is really important when it comes to supporting the functioning of your immune system and long-term health.

“There are a number of nutrients that are particularly important, including Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin D, Vitamin B6 and zinc.

Other supplements that may help include:

  • Echinacea — studies have shown that this herb might help defend against the common cold (but a lot more research is needed)
  • Black elderberry extracts — a medicinal plant that has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of the flu (but research is based on only a few studies with a small number of people involved)
  • Aged garlic extract (AGE) — some research suggests that AGE can enhance your immune cell function and might help reduce the severity of colds and flu
  • Probiotics

Dry your hair

Colds are caused by viruses, not cold weather… but keeping yourself nice and toasty might help you prevent catching a cold.

The experts at ColdZyme said: “Despite what your parents and grandparents might have told you, wet hair doesn’t cause a cold.

“The cold itself is caused by infection from a common cold virus (of which there are thought to be about 200 variants).

“However, if the immune system is already weak, becoming very cold can further weaken it.

“Wet hair in cold conditions can lead to a drop in body temperature which can have a negative effect on a weakened immune system, so it is best to avoid going into the cold with wet hair.”

Take medicine

If you can feel a cold on the horizon, a pharmacist can advise you on the best medicine to take.

The team at ColdZyme said: “Early symptoms of a cold can vary from person to person, ranging from a headache, ‘scratchy’ or sore throat to a feeling of being under the weather.

“As soon as these symptoms appear, start to treat them with medicine.”

Get enough sleep

Ensuring you get sufficient sleep is an important factor in helping us to prevent and fight colds as this is when the body is working at its hardest to fight infection.

ColdZyme’s expert said: “Research has shown that lack of sleep can affect the immune system and its ability to fight infection.”

Aisling expanded: “When you sleep, your body produces and releases cytokines — proteins that target infection and inflammation.

“Sleep is also thought to improve the functioning of your T cells — a really important type of immune cells.

“So a lack of sleep, or not enough quality sleep, can make you more susceptible to sickness. It might also affect how quickly you recover from sickness.”

The NHS suggests that most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night.

It also suggests that children aged between three to five years old get between 10 to 13 hours including naps, children who are six to 12 years old between nine to 12 hours and teenagers (aged 13 to 18) eight to 10 hours per night.”

Aisling added: “If you don’t manage to sleep enough, two naps (no longer than 30 minutes each) can help offset the negative effects of sleep loss.

“Of course, naps aren’t always a feasible option for everyone so try to find a sleep routine that works for you.”

Destress

Did you know that stress can make you more vulnerable to a cold?

Aisling said: “Your emotional wellbeing can have a big impact on your physical health.

“In fact, psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the interactions between your central nervous system (CNS) and your immune system.

“And research shows that chronic stress can weaken your immune system.

There are lots of things that you can do to lower your stress levels and even change how you perceive and respond to stress, including:

  • Mindfulness
  • Deep breathing
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercise
  • Not drinking too much

Exercise

Regular exercise is important for the functioning of your immune system and can help you prevent a cold.

Aisling explained: “There are a lot of theories about how exercise might support your immune system, but the mechanisms aren’t fully understood.

“One theory is that exercise can help your immune cells travel more quickly around your body as it improves your circulation.

“Or, it could be that the brief increase in your body temperature might help you fight infections better. It’s likely a combination of complex reasons.”

Keep in mind that prolonged (more than 90 minutes) moderate-high exercise, particularly done without eating, might suppress your immune function in the short term.

This means it’s important to give your body time to recover between workouts, but Aisling pointed out that it’s pretty hard to overdo it like this unless you’re an athlete enduring prolonged heavy training.

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