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Brady A Nelson
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Brady A Nelson

Do you ever wish you could wrap yourself up in a giant bubble to ward off germs and the constant coughs and sneezes all around you? If only it were possible, especially during cold and flu season. When it’s that time of the year where nearly everyone you know is under the weather with the common cold, it’s only a matter of time until you’re the next culprit. If the thought of agonizing congestion, constant sniffling and body aches is your worst nightmare, have no fear—there are plenty of simple steps you can take to keep yourself healthy and avoid catching a cold.

How to kick the common cold

Whether you start to feel a cold coming on or you want to steer clear of getting sick altogether, be sure to incorporate the following five health-boosting habits into your daily routine to help keep you illness-free or recuperate as quickly as possible if you’re already sick.

  1. Get plenty of sleep

    It may be hard to tell once you crawl into bed at night, but your body is actually hard at work while you sleep. By aiming to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night, you are helping your body reach a state of repair for mending muscle and tissue damage and strengthening your ability to fight off illnesses like the common cold. Sleep restores many of your body’s functions and naturally boosts immunity, too. Talk to your primary care provider if you suspect you may have a sleep disorder interfering with your ability to achieve quality, restful sleep on your own. Consistent poor sleep can be a serious health concern, and it can wear your body down, which makes you more susceptible to getting sick.

  2. Wash your hands

    Don’t hesitate to wash your hands again and again, and yet again. There's a reason frequent hand washing is the most repeated piece of advice to avoid getting a cold: It really works! When you touch any surface, especially in public places, you never know how many other people have touched it before you or what harmful germs may be lurking there. From doorknobs to keyboards and shopping carts to exercise equipment, be mindful that no surface is safe from accumulating sickness germs and grime, even in your own home or on your personal belongings. Carry sanitizing wipes with you to clean surfaces before and after you touch them and avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, or eating food until you can thoroughly clean your hands first. Proper hand washing means scrubbing all areas of your hands and wrists with soap, including under your fingernails, for at least 20 seconds and rinsing with clean water. When soap and water is not available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also effective at killing the germs on your hands. 

    “Many viruses cause the common cold, and a majority of them are transmitted by respiratory droplets through coughing and sneezing,” explains Brady Nelson, MD, Gundersen Health System, Internal Medicine. “Studies have shown that these viruses can remain infectious for up to 24 hours on surfaces, like doorknobs and tabletops. Most of these viruses are effectively neutralized with soap and water. When out in public, it's important to wash your hands to help prevent the virus from being transmitted to you.”

  3. Drink fluids

    Staying hydrated supports your immune system by keeping your blood circulating and flushing waste and toxins out of your body. This keeps your cells healthy and helps you fight off colds. If you do end up getting sick, being hydrated can thin mucus, which keeps it mobile and easier for your body to get rid of, which can help you feel better sooner. Experts recommend drinking as much fluid as possible while you’re sick, even more than you typically would on an average day. If water seems unappealing, other liquids will also do the trick, such as soup, broth, sports drinks, tea, popsicles or ice chips.

  4. Take vitamin D

    Vitamin D keeps your bones healthy and your immune system strong. In other words, if you live in the Midwest, where natural vitamin D from the sun is hard to find during the winter months, consider adding a vitamin D supplement to your daily routine. In fact, most multivitamins for kids and adults contain vitamin D, as well as other beneficial vitamins for warding off colds, like vitamin C and zinc. Be sure to consult with your primary care provider first before taking any new supplements or vitamins.

  5. Avoid crowded places

    Simply put: The more people you're around, the greater your chance of catching a cold. Just think about the dozens of kids running around the mall touching every surface in sight with germy hands or adults coughing around every corner of the grocery store (yuck!). While it's impossible to dodge large groups or stay away from places with a lot of people, it can help to avoid venturing out during the busiest times of the day or week. If you are out and about, try keeping a bit of distance from others if possible and subtly turning away from or avoiding people who are coughing and sneezing. You can also practice basic personal hygiene courtesy when you’re around others by covering your coughs or sneezes with the inside of your arm, keeping your hands as clean as possible and avoiding public places when you’re sick.

How long does a cold last?

Despite your best efforts to stay healthy, it’s possible (and sometimes unavoidable) that you may still end up coming down with the dreaded common cold. Although it’s no fun to be under the weather, most people will typically feel better within 7-10 days. It’s important to remember that your cold is contagious for as long as you experience symptoms, especially during the first few days of being sick; therefore, you should stay home to rest and avoid contact with others as much as possible during that time.

If you’re still not feeling better by day 10 or your symptoms are worsening, be sure to reach out to your primary care provider or call Gundersen’s 24-hour nurse advisory line at 608-775-4454 to determine your next best steps. Whether you live in Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa, we’re here for you any time of the day or night—no matter where you receive your healthcare.

Looking for more information or feeling uncertain it’s just a cold causing your symptoms?

Check out this article for how to tell if you have a cold, the flu or COVID-19.


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