Beat bugs with a prescription for R&R
The cold weather is here again, which means you’re sure to hear more coughing and sniffling everywhere you go. During the winter months, there’s an increased chance you’ll wake up one morning feeling well below 100 percent.
Getting a cold, the flu or a stomach bug can put a halt to your work and holiday plans and leave you sitting at home trying to recover. But when the worst of the stomach discomfort, coughing or congestion is over, you might be anxious to spend time with friends and family again, get back to work or start exercising.
“With cold weather comes cold and flu season,” said Susan A. Werner, M.D., a primary care physician at Geisinger Nanticoke. “When it comes to getting over a sickness, there are remedies that work, and others that don’t. For most illnesses, there are a few common tips that can help you get back to your normal routine.”
Here are some tips to help you bounce back after a bug.
Give it a rest
The most effective way to get over an illness is to rest—from work, errands and exercise.
“When you rest, you let your immune system work at maximum capacity,” said Dr. Werner. “It’s important to take it easy both physically and mentally to keep stress levels down. The best thing you can do is make sure you get plenty of sleep. This gives your body the energy it needs to fight off the virus. That means going to bed early, taking naps throughout the day and getting sound sleep without background distractions like the TV.”
It’s best to give your workout regimen a rest, too. Although experts disagree on the effects of exercise while sick, the energy you use could weaken your immune system and cause the illness to persist longer.
You’re better off taking a day or two to lay low and rest. Once you feel fully recovered and have finished any medication, wait a day or two until you start working out again.
You should also wait until your symptoms are gone to return to work—your co-workers will thank you.
Getting enough rest can also prevent illness in the first place—one study showed that people who got less than seven hours of sleep every night were three times more likely to get sick than people who got eight hours or more.
Raise a glass to your health! A glass of water, that is.
Water, juice, clear broth and warm water with honey and lemon can help keep you from getting dehydrated while you’re sick. They can also help break up congestion, which helps you get rid of excess mucus.
Avoid drinks that dehydrate you—particularly alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas. Dehydration can strain your immune system and cause thicker mucus, meaning your cold may hang around longer.
If you have a stomach bug, it’s even more important to stay hydrated. The stomach flu and diarrhea can cause severe dehydration, so it’s important to drink plenty of water as well as drinks containing electrolytes to help you recharge and bounce back.
Chicken soup for the sick soul
Turns out, your grandmother was right about chicken soup. Research has shown that it actually can make you feel better by calming inflammation in your body.
Besides chicken soup, it’s best to stick to the BRAT diet—that is, bread, rice, applesauce and toast—while you are ill. It’s generally advisable to avoid dairy, fiber and fatty and spicy foods.
Once you’re feeling better, choose healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins to help regain energy and nutrients. Eat fruits like blueberries, raisins and prunes; vegetables like spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts; and proteins like chicken, eggs, nuts and peanut butter.
Avoid making things worse
What do cigarettes, allergens and certain “remedies” have in common? They can all make your cold or flu stick around longer.
“Cigarettes and allergens can both cause airway irritation, which can prolong your sickness,” said Dr. Werner. “Cut down on smoking or quit to get over your sickness quicker. If you can avoid contact with allergens, you’ll probably get well sooner, too. ‘Herbal’ and ‘natural’ remedies, such as Echinacea, zinc, and other products designed to cut your illness short are not approved by the FDA, so they may have no positive effects and can even have adverse consequences such as loss of smell and other health problems.”
Susan A. Werner, M.D., is a primary care physician at Geisinger Nanticoke. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Werner or another primary care physician, please call 570-258-1304 or visit Geisinger.org.