Performers, Stay Healthy During Cold and Flu Season!

Warm, soothing, tasty ammunition to fight colds and flu. It really works...really.

First of all, I’m not a doctor…and nothing in this post is intended as a substitute for actual medical advice. 

That being said, I do know a thing or two about colds and flu…and staying healthy.  One of the most important things you can do is make sure you’re taking care of yourself year-round.  Doing simple things like getting enough sleep, eating as healthy as you can (this includes getting enough to eat, too) ,exercising and not smoking (especially if you’re a singer) are very important actions that can keep your immune system in tip top shape.  That way you’ll be less likely to get sick in the first place but if you do your body will have an easier time fighting the infection.  I follow all of my own advice and I haven’t had a cold in several years…I think that says something right there. 

About Colds and Flu…
There has been a lot of hullabaloo in the news about the over prescribing of antibiotics and how that’s creating strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria (like that crazy staphylococcus variation they call MRSA).  So, when dealing with colds and flu, there are some important things to remember:

  • COLDS are caused by a virus, a rhinovirus to be exact.  It’s called a rhinovirus because it infects the nasal passages.  Since it’s a virus and NOT a bacterium, antibiotics will do absolutely nothing to make it go away.  However, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic IF you develop a secondary bacterial infection like bronchitis, which happens very rarely.  This kind of secondary infection  is what many people are referring to when they say they have a “chest” cold, which might explain the confusion about antibiotics and colds.  The antibiotic will treat the secondary bacterial infection…not the cold itself.  While a cold can make you feel totally miserable it is not life threatening and you need to just wait it out.
  • THE FLU is caused by yet another virus called influenza.  Influenza is a pulmonary (lung) infection that comes on very suddenly, but it shares some of the same symptoms as a cold.  However, a cold cannot “turn into” the flu…and vice versa.  Once again, antibiotics will do absolutely nothing to make it go away, but if necessary your doctor might treat you with anti-viral medication.  There are many different strains of the virus…and more occur each year because viruses can mutate really fast (that’s why they always make a big deal about getting your flu shot).  The vast majority of these aren’t life threatening, either (but some are)…though they can make you feel way more crappy than the common cold.  Babies, small children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with chronic breathing issues who get the flu tend to get much more sick than the average person (even with a “normal” flu) , are more likely to develop secondary infections like pneumonia and might need to be hospitalized.

So, what else can you do to prevent a cold…the flu…or both?

Wash. Your. Hands.  I’ll say it again, only slower…Wash…Your…Hands.
This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria alike.  Some people are obsessed with using antibacterial soaps, but studies have shown that it isn’t any better than using regular soap.  You see, it’s the action of rubbing your hands together under running water (with or without soap) for at least 20 seconds that actually does the trick.  Adding soap will help to wash off even more bacteria and dirt, but if you don’t have soap a 20 second rubbing rinse is better than nothing.  The easiest way to time it is to sing the ABC song or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star…at a normal tempo.  Hand sanitizer also helps if you aren’t able to wash your hands, but don’t overdo it.   Too much hand sanitizer can wipe out all the good bacteria on your hands and make them vulnerable to other types of infection…like fungus…blech!

Rinse. Your. Nose.  I see that confused look on your face, I’ll explain.  Rinsing out your nasal passages with saline at least once a day…twice is better… helps keep out germs and allergens as well.  Rinsing with saline also moisturizes the nasal passages and helps keep them healthy in general…all year round.  Simply Saline is a good one to try if you’re afraid of a neti pot.  If you do use a neti pot make sure you follow the directions…especially the part about using only purified or boiled water.  A man here in SE Louisiana got sick and died earlier this year from a brain infection caused by an amoeba.  He contracted the amoeba by using plain, untreated tap water in his neti pot.  This is bad. Do not do this.

Get your flu shot if you can.  People with certain types of allergies shouldn’t get the shot, but I think the nasal vaccine is ok…check with your doctor.  Remember, getting the flu vaccine doesn’t protect you against all types of flu…only the strains they think will be most likely that season.  So, you could still get the flu, but getting the vaccine can help make those symptoms less severe.

What if I’m already sick?

If you have a cold

These are my own personal tips so I know they work.  They won’t “cure” you, but they can help shorten the duration of your cold and ease symptoms.  I don’t tolerate OTC cold medicines well, so I don’t recommend them.  If you feel you must use one, try to stick with the single symptom kind (especially for kids) or a multi symptom one that treats the least number of symptoms possible.  Don’t give any OTC meds to babies unless your pediatrician tells you it’s ok.

  • Rest, rest, rest!
  • Rinse your nose with saline, morning and night.
  • Drink plenty of clear liquids (if you can’t see through it, it isn’t clear).  This includes hot tea (all kinds), water and clear juices. It helps to thin out mucus naturally, so it’s easier to blow.
  • Chicken soup, eat it.  They don’t call it Jewish penicillin for nothing!
  • Use Breathe Right nose strips at night.  They help you breathe easier so you can get a good night’s sleep.  Sleep is very important.
  • Vapo rub…also at night.  I usually just put a little around my nose instead of a big glob on my chest and neck…but amount and location are totally up to you.
  • Pain reliever is the only OTC medicine I ever recommend.  I use ibuprofen, but those who are allergic to aspirin should stick to acetaminophen.  Colds don’t cause fever or body aches but they can give you a mean, nasty headache.

If you have the flu…

Fortunately for me, I’ve never had the flu…but that means I don’t have any of my own tips for dealing with it.  So, here are a few I have collected from other people.  Some of them are the same as for treating a cold.  Remember- babies, small children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with chronic breathing issues who get the flu need to go to the doctor  much sooner than the average person.

  • Rest, rest, rest!
  • Drink plenty of clear liquids…see above.
  • Chicken soup, eat it.
  • Osillococcinum…yep, it’s a crazy word…and hard to pronounce, but I’ve been told that it works great for the flu.  It’s a homeopathic remedy but you don’t have to go to the health food store…they sell it at Walmart.  Just be sure to read the label…people with certain types of allergies shouldn’t use it.
  • Pain reliever/fever reducer.  Yes, influenza causes fever…and body aches.  If your fever is high you need to call your doctor…don’t screw around.

Remember, take care of yourself and try to stay as healthy as you can year round, not just during cold and flu season.  To learn even more about colds and flu, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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Posted on December 11, 2011, in Musician's Health and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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