Cold virus can impact immune system

Posted Jan. 14, 2014, at 10:41 a.m.

Getting a cold is miserable business. And for seniors it can be particularly dangerous due to aging immune systems. An older adult with a cold virus has fewer defenses to fight secondary infections, such as pneumonia. Then there is the lingering cough that can be exhausting. Best scenario is to avoiding getting sick in the first place if at all possible.

There is a great resource for health information that you can trust. Log onto www.WebMD.com to learn about a variety of ailments from A to Z.  While this site does not give medical advice or offer diagnosis or treatment, being well informed is worth the time to log on.

Now we all know that the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot, but since there is no vaccine for the common cold, prevention proves a bit trickier.

Among the tidbits WebME.com offers: “8 Natural Tips to Help Prevent a Cold.”

First, wash your hands — a lot. As you have read everywhere, most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact, meaning that someone who is sick sneezes into his or her hand, then touches anything except a bar of soap; the germs are transferred, just waiting for a new human to make miserable.

Wash your hands as much as you can. And to avoid unnecessary dryness, keep a bottle of your favorite hand lotion by the sink to use immediately after. Keeping hands moisturized can help prevent the horrific thumb-splitting syndrome. If you cannot get to a sink, use hand sanitizer with an active ingredient of alcohol. Don’t just go for the “anti-bacterial” label. Remember, the cold is viral, not bacterial.

Second, never cough or sneeze into your hands, which can harbor and spread the viruses and germs. When you feel the urge, use a tissue that can be immediately tossed in the trash — or use the crook of your elbow.

Three, keep your potentially germy hands away from your face. Viruses can get into your body through eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s hard to remember this, but try to stay conscious of where your hands are at all times.

Fourth, exercise to increase your heart rate and your breathing pace, which helps transfer oxygen from your lungs to your blood. It also makes you sweat once you get the body heated up. This all helps increase “the body’s natural virus-killing cells.”

Fifth, eat foods containing phytochemicals, which are the natural chemicals in plants that give the vitamins in food a supercharged boost. Be sure to eat dark green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits.

Sixth, don’t smoke. Statistically, heavy smokers get more severe and more frequent colds. Smoking weakens the immune system and dries out nasal passages among other things.

Seventh, Reduce alcohol consumption as heavy drinkers are more prone to infections and secondary complications. Also, alcohol will dehydrate you.

And finally, just relax. Talk to your healthcare provider about relaxation techniques that might rev up your immune system. According to WebME.com, “There’s evidence that when you put your relaxation skills into action, your interleukins — leaders in the immune system response against cold and flu viruses — increase in the bloodstream.” Spend 30 minutes daily imaging something you find pleasant or calming.

And take heart. There are 1,500 hours till spring. Tick-Tock.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of community education at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865 or log on www.eaaa.org.

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