Cold and flu tips for winter

There's no getting away from it, with winter comes a greater risk of catching a cold or suffering with the flu. Fevers, blocked noses, coughs and shivers are all part of the misery so here are a few tips on reducing your risk of catching the dreaded lurgy and what to do if you're unlucky enough to fall ill.

Woman blowing her nose
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Keep warm
While you can't actually catch a cold from being cold, shivering in the chilly weather affects your immune system, making it more likely that you'll catch the sniffles. Wrap up warm, both at home and outside, taking care to wear a hat and you'll lower your chances of developing a cold.

Wash your hands
Though infections are mainly transmitted via the air, germs are easily passed from person to person via physical contact. Regular hand washing can significantly reduce your risk of getting a virus.

Boost your immune system
With the winter cold affecting our immune systems and damp conditions providing a breeding ground for germs, it's important to give yourself a boost. Be sure to eat a healthy diet (your five-a-day will prove useful during the winter months) to give your body the ability to combat colds and flu.

A recent study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, also found that people who exercise regularly nearly halved their chances of catching cold viruses. And those that stayed active experienced less severe symptoms when they did fall ill.

For those who are eligible - over-65s, pregnant women, those with ongoing medical or respiratory problems - get down to your doctor and take advantage of the flu jab.

If, however, you should fall victim to a virus, what's the best course of action?

Unfortunately, antibiotics have no effect on viruses but high street pharmacies are loaded with cold and flu remedies and your pharmacist should be able to advise you on the best medicine for your particular symptoms. It's particularly important to check that your chosen remedy is suitable for children should your little one be suffering. For adults, the NHS recommends a paracetamol-based remedy to help relieve the symptoms and lower your temperature.

Plenty of rest is essential, particularly with the flu, as getting the right amount of sleep will help your body to fight off the infection. Use several pillows to help relieve clogged nasal passages and enable you to get the rest you need. And don't be tempted to struggle into work - staying at home will prevent the spread of the infection to others.

Similarly, drinking plenty of fluids is recommended - those unfortunate enough to contract the flu virus often experience a high temperature as well as an upset stomach and it is important to replace lost fluids.

For the majority of healthy adults, colds and flu are an unpleasant but non life-threatening experience. However, the elderly, young children and those with long-term illnesses are more likely to get complications such as pneumonia, ear infections and sinusitis.

If you or a loved one is in a high-risk group be aware that, if symptoms continue to worsen, last longer than a week or new symptoms appear (like a rash), the NHS advises that you should visit GP to ensure that no further treatment or diagnosis is necessary.