You feel it coming on: the stuffy nose and itchy throat, sneezing and coughing, maybe even body aches and chills. With cold and flu season at its peak, you want to be ready if you get sick. Here’s what to have on hand to help you feel better and stay well.
Neti pot. It’s designed to flush out the mucus and gunk in your nasal cavity; some prefer a plastic squeeze bottle. Fill the container with warm salt water (if you’re using tap water, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to first pass it through a filter with a 1-micron or smaller pore size or boil for one minute and cool. Otherwise use bottled water that has been distilled or sterilized.) Standing over a sink, tilt your head to the side and a little forward and pour, so the solution goes in the top nostril and comes out the bottom one; repeat on the other side.
Over-the-counter cold medications. Antibiotics are useless against cold and flu viruses, but non-prescription pain relievers, cough syrups and decongestants can provide some relief from symptoms. They won’t make your cold go away any faster, and most have side effects; some can even make symptoms worse if taken for more than a few days. Use these medications as directed, and before giving anything to your child, check with your pediatrician — some products aren’t safe for kids at certain ages.
Humidifier. It adds moisture to the air, which can help ease coughing and congestion. Both cool-mist and warm-mist humidifiers are effective, but the cool versions are safer for kids (hot water or steam from a vaporizer can burn a child if he gets too close). Remember to change the water daily and keep the humidifier clean to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds.
Chicken soup. It’s your go-to meal when you’re feeling under the weather. You give it to your kids when they’re sick, your mom probably gave it to you and your grandmother to her. It’s a home remedy that has been passed down through generations and some science supports it — one study suggests chicken soup contains substances that act as anti-inflammatory agents; another found eating it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus, possibly relieving congestion. The research is far from conclusive, but if nothing else, it helps keep you hydrated, which eases symptoms.
Soap. Keeping your hands clean is one of the most effective ways to stop germs from spreading so you stay healthy — and washing them with plain old soap and water is best. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there’s no evidence that over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are any more effective at preventing illness.
Get the flu shot. It’s not too late, and according to health officials, it’s the best defense against the flu. A recent government report estimates that vaccinations prevented 6.6 million cases of flu-associated illness last year. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older.
— The Doctors is an award-winning TV show. Check local listings.