Cold and flu season is upon us. As usual, we didn’t even see it coming. But we felt it in mild congestion, scratchy throats, and little aches and discomforts. And we’ve seen and heard it even more: in the reddened runny noses, sleepy eyes, and emerging coughs all around the faces old and small in our families. It’s time for extra vitamin C, boxes of tissues, flu shots, cough drops, and common colds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Americans suffer through an average of two to three colds per year and that each illness can last up to ten days. Read on for eleven ways to keep your family in the New Year, the cold and flu season, and all year round, some of them overlooked and very much under-utilized.
Keep Your Home Healthy and Sanitary
You, your spouse, and your children can develop a full-on cold or other illness as many as three days after coming into contact with the virus that causes it. That scale limits the efficacy of most of our efforts to keep away from potential contaminants, allergens, and contagions. They can be lurking in places that we overlook in our caution, and forget as the days pass by. The best way to avoid spreading colds, the flu, and other illnesses, especially among your family, is to be diligent about keeping a clean and healthy home. A healthy family lives in a healthy home.
Make Sure You Have Healthy, Clean Water
Water is not only consumed more than any other beverage you bring into your home, but it is also used in many of the other beverages your family consumes: hot chocolate and cocoa, tea, coffee, and cold drinks. It is also used for cooking, baking, braising, and in many foods you prepare for your family. Dirty water can be a significant health hazard. Be sure to keep your water safe and clean by having hot water heaters inspected, especially as seasons change and cold weather sets in. Keep water filters on your tap, from your refrigerator, and in refillable pitchers and thermoses current. Be sure that surfaces and faucets used for serving water are cleaned and sanitized, and that cups, glasses, pitchers, and other containers used for serving water are being properly sanitized by a clean dishwasher with regularly cleared and washed filters, as well as fresh detergents and rinse additives.
Keep Alert About Mold and Other Contagions in Your Home
In the United States, as many as 80% of occupied buildings have had water damage at some point; and another 45% have current water leaks. Where there’s water, there’s an opportunity for mold to develop, spread, and thrive. Even if no one in your family has a mild or moderate allergy to mold, mold toxicity can be a serious health concern and can contribute to or exacerbate other illnesses, which is especially dangerous during cold season. Be sure to keep alert about signs of mold, especially on walls and woodwork, by looking for leaks and bubbled or warped patches. Keep paint applications fresh and in good repair, especially in basements and finished basements. Install a humidity monitor and make sure your home remains below 60% humidity. If necessary, install dehumidifiers in problem areas and potential problem areas around your home, or have a mold removal done in your house. Taking the extra step of waterproofing your home, especially potential problem areas, will go a long way to keeping your family dry, comfortable, safe, and healthy in your home through cold season and beyond.
Don’t Overlook the Family Dentist
Most of us turn to the medical part of our health insurance plans when we feel sick, but regular trips to the dentist can be an important factor in maintaining physical health as well. Not only that but when you’ve contracted a serious enough cold or other transient illness, your oral health can be in its destructive path as well. Either way, the oral health of your family should be a top priority as you guide them through a healthy cold and flu season. It can start as simply as maintaining regular visits to the family dentist, and modeling good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly, including after meals and before bedtime or however your family manages its regular routines. Be sure that your family is using the most effective products when it comes to toothbrushes, floss, mouthwash, and toothpaste – dentists recommend choosing a tartar removing toothpaste for best health. And if colds do set in, don’t overlook symptoms that may need the extra attention of your family dentist: nasal congestion and dry mouth can betray unexpected threats to your otherwise healthy family’s oral hygiene, as they work hand in hand to inhibit breathing, cause sleep disruptions, and leave your mouth potentially a breeding ground for harmful bacteria as saliva flow reduces and regular swallowing is interrupted. This can not only perpetuate and exacerbate common colds and minor illnesses, but can increase the likelihood of gum disease, tooth decay, and other threats to oral health. Nasal congestion and dry mouth, among other symptoms associated with common colds, can cause difficulty chewing, swallowing, and eating, depriving your body of nutrients and vitamins vital to fighting off or heal from colds and infections, especially during cold season. In addition, colds can cause sinus pain, toothaches, and other discomforts that can impact a number of elements of everyday caretaking. And toothaches can frequently be symptoms of much more serious conditions, such as severe sinus infections, acute sinusitis, and even the beginnings of troubling bone issues in or around the jaw. (For any pain that isn’t confined to only one tooth, see your family dentist as soon as possible!) Though even a mild cold can impact your ability to maintain regular self-care, it’s vitally important to keep up with regular oral hygiene and to make sure that your family does as well.
Don’t Overlook the Family Doctor
While the family dentist may be an overlooked resource when taking care of your healthy family during cold season, the value of the family doctor should, of course, not be taken for granted. Remember that a single ill family member left untreated can lead to an entire healthy family ending up under the weather. Be sure not to self-diagnose or, even worse, web-diagnose the colds among your otherwise healthy family members: if symptoms are severe enough, a trip to the family doctor is never over-cautious. Antibiotics and guidance from a single visit can almost immediately inhibit a mini-epidemic from tormenting your healthy family. Err on the side of caution and see your family doctor for an accurate diagnosis of colds or minor illnesses that linger or seem unusually severe.
Get the Influenza Vaccine
The Centers for Disease Control advises that each person over the age of six months in your household receives the influenza vaccine each year, although you should coordinate with your family doctor. The influenza vaccine is the most effective way to keep the most dangerous seasonal illness away from your healthy family.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
While stricter bedtimes and even naps are enforced among the younger members of your healthy family, research has shown that healthy sleep regimens become more important as children age, and that older children and adults may actually require more sleep than younger or preschool children. And as common colds have a number of ways, from congestion to pain, to make it difficult to maintain regular sleep, it’s important not to overlook structured, supported, and regular sleep routines. Our bodies heal, replenish, and, obviously, rest while we sleep. Illnesses that interfere with sleep are a great deal more likely to linger or grow more severe. Be sure that symptoms are appropriately treated in order to restore comfort and maintain healthy sleep schedules. Regular sleep is an important part of a healthy family throughout the year and has benefits well beyond prevention and restoration: sleep supports cognitive ability and learning, mental health, hygiene, healthful eating, and appropriate levels of engagement in physical activity, among many other nutritive benefits.
Dress for the Weather Conditions
Checking the weather conditions and dressing accordingly is simple, intuitive, and important, and most of us do it rotely. But weather conditions can change rapidly, especially in winter and certain climates: family members who are suddenly overdressed or underdressed for the weather can be exposed to conditions that put them in the path of colds and illnesses. The excessive perspiration of an overdressed child can be just as hazardous as the exposure to cold weather sustained by an underdressed child. Dress yourself and your healthy family in layers, leaving options for fluctuating weather, and err on the side of dryness.
It’s well worth spending a little more on gas utilities, heating oil, propane, or other heating resources to keep your healthy family warm and well. But be sure not to keep your home too hot, as excessive dryness can have health implications – such as skin conditions and sleep and breathing difficulties – as much as a cold house. The best way to keep your healthy family warm during colder seasons without overspending on utilities is to make sure your home is well insulated and draft-free around doors and windows. There’s a reason they’re called “colds.”
Practice Good Hygiene
Be sure you and your family are regular and attentive about keeping your hands and faces clean. Model the best hygiene by washing your hands after messy tasks or handling food, before eating, and on other occasions when you may have come into contact with contagions, allergens, or contaminates. Remind your children to wash their hands when they are away from home, such as at school, playdates, or other activities, and make hand-washing a part of your dining routine. And avoid hand sanitizers – which dry skin with harsh alcohol, inhibit the creation of antibodies, and can lead to resistant strains of harmful bacteria and viruses – except when there is no opportunity for washing hands, and activity has made hand-washing necessary.
Spend Time – and Meals – Together
Last but not nearly least: spend time together. As with many health-related issues, awareness is a key to prevention: remaining hands-on with your family is the best way to maintain insights into their health, catch potential illnesses early, and keep them motivated about self-care. In addition, your family will be more attentive to their own self-care when they regularly see you model it, and when your attention is appropriately on their caretaking. And structured, healthy family time like meals are the greatest way to make sure that vital elements of self-care, eating and drinking healthily, are being tended to. Eating healthy and nutritious meals helps prevent illnesses and supports a number of positive health benefits. Family meals are a great opportunity to reinforce the importance of remaining well hydrated with water or limited juices (they contain a great deal of sugar), especially as the seasons change, the weather dries, and the dry heat in buildings increases. It can be difficult to get younger children to drink enough water, so mealtimes are a great opportunity to be creative. Try cooled fruit teas, tisanes, or other creative infusions, and even involve your children in inventing and making them. Keep a pitcher of citrus or cucumber water cold in the refrigerator. And keep yourself and your spouse well hydrated by balancing caffeine – a diuretic – consumption. Remember that alcohol can have a negative impact on your immune system, so try to use wines and beers and other drinks moderately, especially when you’re modeling self-care for your family during meal times. Don’t forget that you are part of your healthy family as well. If you have a family with older children, or even children away at school, you can still influence their health and remain connected through mealtimes. Try instituting a family brunch every weekend, a tradition that can continue and even grow with your family and then extended family. The emotional and practical support of these occasions has tremendous mental and physical health benefits that can last well into their adult lives and even become a part of the healthy families that they begin.