The runny nose, cough, and sore throat of a cold are hard to escape; most people suffer two or three bouts with the enemy a year. That's why it's called "the common cold."
In the winter months, flu( short for influenza) inflicts a similar misery on people; what makes flu worse is the presence of fever, as well as muscle and joint aches. The complications of flu – especially pneumonia – can be serious and thousands of North Americans die from flu or its complications each year.
Colds and flu are highly contagious respiratory infections that are caused by viruses. More than 200 cold viruses (rhinoviruses) have been identified; unfortunately, developing immunity to one does not protect you from the others. There are fewer flu viruses, but they undergo frequent mutations – that is, they change their protein structure just a little – each year as they sweep around the globe. This is why new flu vaccines are produced yearly that protect against the prevailing strains of the virus. Doctors recommend annual flu shots for everyone over the age of 65, people of any age who have a circulatory, respiratory, kidney, metabolic, or immune disorder.
CATCHING THE "BUG"
Colds and flu are spread when virus-laden fluid droplets are released into the air by coughing and sneezing or transferred to surfaces by touch. British researches have shown that the cold virus is activated at temperatures slightly below 98.6°F (37°C), the normal temperature for humans. So it seems that the old wives' tales about catching cold have a gain of truth: If you sit in a draft, your temperature may drop just enough to activate the cold viruses that have been biding their time in your nasal passages.
When you breathe overly dry air (especially in planes and artificially ventilated office buildings), your nasal passages may form tiny cracks that provide an entryway for viruses. The best defense is plenty of fluids to rehydrate the tender membranes; try using a humidifier or opening the window to improve air quality.
You're more vulnerable to colds and flu when your immune system is depressed. Preventive steps include avoiding alcohol, getting plenty of rest, and reducing stress levels.
THE ROLE OF DIET
While there's no cure for colds or flu, eating properly may help to prevent them, shorten their duration, or make symptoms less severe.
More than two decades of extensive research have failed to substantiate claims that mega doses of vitamin C can prevent or cure colds. While there is no evidence to suggest it will prevent you from getting sick, some studies show it can shorten the length of the cold or lessen the symptoms. Vitamin C is known to have a slight antihistaminic effect, so drinking more citrus juice or taking a supplement may help reduce nasal symptoms.
One of the worst effects of high fever is dehydration. During a cold or flu, drink a minimum of 8 to 10 glasses of fluids a day in order to replenish lost fluids, keep mucous membranes moist, an loosen phlegm. Drink water, tea, and broth. Abstain from alcohol, which dilates small blood vessels and makes the sinuses feel stuffed up. Alcohol may produce adverse effects when taken with many drugs and reduces the body's ability to fight infection.
The debate about whether to starve a cold and feed a fever is obsolete; doctors recommend eating when you feel hungry. The following foods may be helpful and comforting.
Chicken soup. Grandma was right ! Not only is it soothing and easy to digest, but chicken soup also contains cystine, a compound that helps thin the mucus, relieving congestion.
Spicy foods. Hot peppers, or chilies, contain capsaicin, a substance that can help break up nasal and sinus congestion. Garlic, turmeric, and other hot spices have a similar effect.
The effect of zinc on the common cold remains controversial. Some research shows that sucking on zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold may help cut the cold's duration and/or severity. Taking zinc supplements over a prolonged period is not a good idea since getting more than 40 mg per day over a long period of time can actually weaken your immune system, making it less able to fight against disease. It is important to ensure that your diet contains zinc-rich foods since zinc is important to a healthy immune system. Food sources of zinc include seafood (especially oysters), red meat and poultry, yogurt and other dairy products, wheat germ, wheat bran, and whole grains.