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Winter health | Flu season

Does cold weather make you sick?

Joanne Richard
Special to The Weather Network

Thursday, December 6, 2018, 4:28 PM - "Dress warmly, you don’t want to get sick!" How many times have you heard your grandmother offer up that sage advice?

Well, grandma may not always know best because it’s not the cold weather that’ll make you sick, it’s those nasty cold and flu germs that are out to get you. Beware of doorknobs, computer keyboards and being sardined in an elevator with a bunch of coughing, congested colleagues! 

You’re up against an army of contagious culprits every single day – touching that handrail is like shaking hands with 10,000 people, reports alternative health practitioner Bryce Wylde of wyldeabouthealth.com. It’s a petri dish out there! “Sick colleagues are shedding bacteria and viruses, and you can expect all surfaces within six feet of that person to be contaminated for at least a day.”

Disgusting nose mucous and germy sneeze droplets can travel at 80 km an hour, and up to 15 feet in distance. “Even if they aren’t coughing or sneezing, thousands of droplets are flying out of their mouth – and it only takes one to land in your eye or for you to breathe up your nose to infect you,” says Wylde. 

According to B.C. pharmacist Edwin Ho of express-scripts.ca, bundling up isn’t going to keep you from getting sick. The influenza virus lives in tiny water droplets that come from your mouth and nose and can live for quite some time in the air or on surfaces. “During the summer, it’s usually more humid, and the water droplets drop to the ground quite quickly. In the winter, when it’s dry, the droplet can stay airborne much longer and has more opportunity to infect someone else.”

The other factor at play is that we spend a lot of time indoors in the winter, so if there is one person at home with the virus, everyone else in the house is spending more quality time with the virus as well and it’s more likely they will become infected, says Ho.

Cold or flu viruses can take you down and get you down, but since they are viral infections, antibiotics won’t help so you may consider reaching for an arsenal of over-the-counter relief. A stuffy or runny nose can be treated with a decongestant which works by reducing the mucous production in the nose, says Rexall pharmacist Amit Joshi, “but this may not be suitable for everyone, especially if on certain blood pressure medications, so it’s always recommended to ask your local pharmacist what’s most appropriate for you.”  

Once post-nasal drip has caused mucous to settle in the chest, Joshi says it’s treated over-the-counter by using an expectorant, such as guaifenesin. “Along with drinking plenty of fluids, this will help loosen up the mucous in the chest, making it easier to cough and clear out,” adds Joshi. 

Guaifenesin is used to treat the symptoms of chest congestion caused by the common cold. Guaifenesin basically works by thinning and loosening mucus in the airways, clearing congestion, and making breathing easier. It helps to thin postnasal drainage from the sinuses and reduces nasal congestion which in turn can relieve sinus pressure and headaches. In Canada, Mucinex has the highest dosage of guaifenesin than any competitor product, and is the only expectorant that lasts 12 hours and is a remedy to wave mucous goodbye quickly and for good!

Keep in mind there are two types of cough, wet and dry, and they have different treatments. The wet, chesty cough has phlegm and the dry one doesn’t. Wet usually indicates a chest infection, while a dry cough is usually associated with dust, smoke or allergies.

Antitussive is a cough suppressant and generally suppresses a dry cough while an expectorant, some containing guaifenesin, is used to soften the chest phlegm of a wet cough and expel it out. Decongestants reduce congestion by constricting blood vessels in the nose, while antihistamines reduce the release of histamines and in turn the congestion and the amount of secretion made by the lungs.

According to Ho, if too much mucus is leading to a runny nose and it’s interfering with your daily work and play, you can take an antihistamine to slow the flow. If it’s causing a cough, you can use a cough suppressant. “If it’s causing congestion and headaches, you can use an expectorant to thin the mucus and help clear it out. There are medicines on the market that have all of these ingredients.”

Remember though, that runny nose and that cough are actually helping you clear out the bugs that are making you sick, adds Ho. To further thin the mucus so it will clear faster, drink extra fluids and try to make the air you breathe more humid. Boiling water and breathing in the steam, or holding a warm, wet towel to your face will help clear congestion caused by mucus.  

“Remember to consult your physician or pharmacist when starting over-the-counter cold and cough products. You want to choose the right product and ensure there are no interactions with your current medications.”

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