How to stay healthy this holiday season
When people think of winter ailments, colds and cold sores often come to mind. “Typically the common cold is viral and cold sores are also viral, but it is typically two different viruses so they are not necessarily related,” said Dr. Margaret Morel-Pelitere, an internal medicine physician at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center in New Orleans. When you have a cold, you know it. “For symptoms, you are looking at sneezing, nasal congestion, rhinorrhea or nasal discharge, a cough, low grade fever, headache and just a general sensation of fatigue and malaise that can last between five and seven days,” said Morel-Pelitere.
Cold season lasts fall through spring, but is usually self-limiting; the key is to treat the symptoms. “If someone is coughing, you give them a cough medication; decongestants help with nasal congestion and drainage,” said Morel-Pelitere. The only worry about decongestants is that people with high blood pressure should avoid taking them regularly or long-term. “Increase water intake because a lot of the medications are drying and moist things help to decrease symptoms, so if you moisten the mucus and thin it out, it helps to absorb it better,” recommended Morel-Pelitere. There are also alternative and herbal remedies like Echinacea and zinc as well as mixed studies on vitamin C. “Once you get the cold, vitamin C is not going to help you recover faster and then there are zinc preparations which are also over-the-counter but have a few bad side effects like bad taste,” said Morel-Pelitere.
Cold sores are generally transmitted from person to person. “You can get it if you have a friend with a cold sore and take a sip of a drink using a straw,” said Morel-Pelitere. Typically the duration of cold sores is about a week, just like colds. “There are anti-virals and anti-herpes medications and the sooner you start on them, the better you are as far as decreasing the duration of the cold sores,” said Morel-Pelitere. Similar to colds, they are self-limiting and will go away on their own in a patient with a normal immune system. “Cold sores start in kids and the first time you get it, you can get a fever, body aches, blister somewhere around your lip or oral area and before you get the lesion, you get pain and tingling in the area,” explained Morel-Pelitere. Although people do not want a lesion on their lip, it is not a serious medical condition.
People who are in contact with another individual who is on the verge of developing a cold sore, can get one as well. “People do not necessarily realize that tingling and pain means you are contagious even though the lesion may not break out until the afternoon, so that is one of the reasons it is hard to stop the spread,” said Morel-Pelitere. For both colds and cold sores, good hygiene, avoiding people that are sick and trying to stay in good physical health will reduce the frequency you get ill. It is important to know when to seek medical evaluation. “The very old or very young should check in with a physician if their symptoms include high fever, bad headaches, significant sore throat or anything that is more severe than the normal annoyance,” said Morel-Pelitere. It is a good idea to be seen if you can say “yes” to any of the following: you have a complicated medical history, are a cancer survivor or are being treated for cancer, have rheumatoid arthritis and are on steroids or other medications that can affect your immune system.
With cold sores, early intervention makes a difference. “The sooner you start the medication for treatment, it decreases the duration of the outbreak,” said Morel-Pelitere. Patients are usually given a prescription with a refill so if they get their symptoms back in two, three or six months, they know what to expect. For colds, there are more over-the-counter options such as expectorants, antihistamines and decongestants. The only two that require prescriptions are nasal antihistamines and nasal steroids. “The only caution is if the patient is pregnant or on complicated medications. They may want to check with their gynecologist to confirm and support whether they can use something,” said Morel-Pelitere.
There are also a few dietary secrets to prevent developing colds and cold sores. “Anything that has vitamin C will prevent you from getting sick and the maximum amount that you would need to boost your immune system is about 250 extra milligrams which you can get easily with food,” said Rebecca Lee, a dietician at East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie. Broccoli, kale and citrus fruit are a few good sources. “Make sure you eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day during the flu season and stay hydrated because that is important in preventing you from getting sick,” suggested Lee.
Though vitamin C is the main immune booster, there are others. “Any antioxidant will boost the immune system which includes vitamins A, C, E and D and you can get them with a good variety of colored fruits and vegetables,” said Lee. Beta-carotene is also an example of vitamin A and it can be found in sweet potatoes and carrots. “Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and dietary fortified dairy products will be highest,” said Lee. Vitamin E can be found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil and almonds. To make sure you’re consuming enough of these vitamins, Lee recommends getting your levels checked by a doctor.
Lee says it’s also important to focus on your diet for overall good health. “Avoid trans fats, saturated fats, high-sodium and high-sugar items and focus more on fruits, vegetables, dairy products, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, lean meat and healthy fat so you will be better off, have less inflammation and function better,” said Lee. When the weather starts changing, it is inevitable that people get sick but you can always turn to your primary care physician or a dietician for guidance on how to sail smoothly through the season.