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How to Prevent Catching Colds and Flu

Updated on November 13, 2016
Marisa Wright profile image

Marisa Wright writes about mental and physical wellbeing based on her personal experiences, as well as those of her family.

You can't prevent colds unless you understand how you catch them! And you''ll be surprised why you catch colds: it's not at all what you think.

It's true that cold germs survive on surfaces, and are carried in droplets when we sneeze - but under normal circumstances, you won't catch a cold as a result. Something has to happen to make you vulnerable, before the germs can cause a cold.

Being stressed, or already sick with some other illness, makes you vulnerable to cold germs. However, there are other, less obvious triggers that give the cold germs a chance to invade.

One is the balance inside your nose and mouth. Normally, your nasal and throat passages are nicely moist and pH-balanced. Cold germs don't stand a chance! But if your nose or throat lining dries out - perhaps because of air conditioning in an office or an aircraft - your defences are lowered and the germs have a chance to take hold. That's one of the reasons so many of us develop colds and flu after a long-haul flight - it's not the poor quality air, it's the dryness.

The Main Cause of Colds

The most common reason why we catch colds is sudden changes in the temperature of the air we breathe!

Notice, I'm not talking about a sudden change in the weather - that's been comprehensively proven to be a myth as a cause for colds. I'm talking about a sudden change in the air you breathe in.

Years ago, there was a Cold Research Institute in England. Their goal was to find a way to make people catch colds - so they could work out how to cure them. They would put human volunteers through all kinds of tests - wet hair, changes in weather, exposure to infected handkerchieves - and there was only one test that worked nearly every time.

They got them to move from a very hot room to a very cold room, or vice versa, then exposed them to the virus. Nearly all their subjects developed a cold as a result of this experiment.

Prevent Colds - Maintain an Even Temperature

We all know people who cool their houses to Arctic temperatures in summer, or who turn their living room into a furnace in the winter. If those people catch colds, they only have themselves to blame - because every time they step out of their home into the fresh air, they give their respiratory system a huge temperature shock. If they're exposed to the cold virus soon after (and since there are over 200 different cold viruses, the chances are high that they will be), they're almost certain to catch a cold.

So the biggest prevention secret is to maintain your temperature on an even keel. Don't crank your air conditioning down to sub-zero temperatures. You enjoy the temperature of a balmy spring day, don't you? Set your thermostat there. If you can't walk around your home in strappy summer dresses, you have your thermostat set too cold.

In winter, if you can take off your sweater and bask in your shirt sleeves indoors, you have the heating set too high.

Of course, keeping your indoor temperatures closer to the temperature outside will also save you on energy bills!

What If You Feel a Cold Starting?

If you are feeling a tell-tale itch in your throat or twitch in your nose, it's still not too late to take preventative action.

You'll see plenty of advice to take Vitamin C, echinacea, garlic or olive leaf extract to treat a cold. Unfortunately, there still hasn't been a scientific study that convincingly proves any of them is effective. However, none of them will do you any harm, and they have other health benefits - so if you want to try them, why not?

There is one supplement that has been proven effective, though. It's zinc.

The effectiveness of zinc was first discovered when doctors were testing to see if zinc improved the immune system of leukaemia patients. They were surprised when one patient recovered from colds and flu much faster than others on the same dose. On questioning her, they found she didn't like swallowing pills, so she was chewing the zinc tablet.

Subsequent trials proved that when zinc comes into contact with the mucous membranes inside the nose and throat, it seems to weaken the virus. Result - a cold that lasts a day or two, instead of a week!

As usual, conventional medicine was slow to accept this discovery but several vitamin manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and marketed zinc lozenges (which were meant to be sucked). Unfortunately, zinc leaves a fuzzy taste in the mouth, so they weren't popular even though they worked! So many suppliers switched to tablets, which could be swallowed. These are a complete con trick, because as we now know, zinc only kills the cold virus if it comes into contact with the insides of your nose and mouth - not your stomach!

More recently, suppliers have experimented with alternatives such as drops, effervescent drinks and nasal sprays which contain therapeutic levels of zinc. These really do work and are most effective when used at the very first sign of a cold.


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    • MariannesWhims profile image

      Marianne Gardner 3 years ago from Pacific NW, USA

      Interesting! I always thought there was something to the fact of coming down with a cold after getting chilled from sudden change in body temperature. I do think zinc lozenges may help.

    • ausetkmt profile image

      ausetkmt 8 years ago from Tampa, FL

      great advice, especially the parts about temperature and zinc. I can clearly tell you from personal experience these are both correct.

    • profile image

      pccallenz 8 years ago

      Your information is superb and informative. I am sharing this with my yoga and health benefit friends. Your explanations are clear and benefitial.

      I do not get colds but if I feel a flu or sinus congestion coming on I take lots of water, pineapple juice and "Airborne Seasonal Dietary supplement" within 7 hours or less, everything clears. It sounds basic but try it. It works.

      Love and Peace

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 8 years ago from Australia

      Good hub Marisa. I take a supplement for over 50s which does includes Zinc and I can't remember the last time I had a cold.

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 8 years ago from North Carolina

      I use this Linga Mudra for Cold, it is a very effective tool. Also in the winter I use it, it warms up the body pretty good. The monks in India use this Mudra, they don't wear jackets like us and yet they manage it with thin clothing.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 8 years ago from Sydney

      Packer, your dust allergy doesn't give you a cold.  It makes your nose stuffy and makes you sneeze.  That's a totally different thing and not a cold at all - I deal with it in my Hub,

      You are right, some dust will trigger your allergy and some won't - because it's not the dust that's the problem, it's the tiny dust mites that live in it.  Dust mites require particular conditions to survive so they're not in all dust - for instance they're in the dust in your house, but not in the dust in the street.

    • packerpack profile image

      Om Prakash Singh 8 years ago from India, Calcutta

      You will be surprised to know that I have a completely different reason for cold. It is a dust allergy! I hardly remember getting cold because of any of the reason that you have mentioned in your Hub.

      I used to suffer from cold virtually through the year since my childhood but it was later on that I realised that I am allergic to dust and this is what causes cold in me most of the times.

      In my childhood days any kind of dust used to trigger it but now it is interesting to note that not all kind of dust causes it. It is particularly the dust that comes up when I am cleaning my house that causes it. I really know how and why. The moment I get exposed, it starts within two minutes and becomes very intense. I consulted my doctor, he gave me a medicine and it seem to work fine.

    • Israelj profile image

      Israelj 9 years ago from California

      Great information, and really timely. Here are some of my ways of fighting the colds when they hit:

    • Hazel Crawner profile image

      Hazel Crawner 9 years ago

      Wow! Thanks for helping. [ wow , you sure have a talent for writing.]

    • profile image

      Outback Fan 9 years ago

      Great information! I have been lucky so far, no cold this winter :)

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Did you say Chardonnay?yum Enough of that might help...if not cure; definitely feel less pain...cheers

      about wearing a sweater...if you're as cheep as me two ;a turtleneck and a thick wool oversweater

      Again Marissa great HUB regards Zsuzsy

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 9 years ago from Sydney

      Yes, Zsuzsy, it's a problem when the temperature outside is extreme! Yes, it's warm here in Sydney but we have the opposite problem - it's 35 (Celsius) outside. It's obvious no one is going to sit in that heat indoors, but some people have their air con turned right down to 18 degrees! If you were sitting on the terrace sipping chardonny and it was 25 degrees, you'd be saying what a beautiful day it was - so why do you need your house to be any cooler than that?

      In a cold climate, your house should be warm enough to take your coat, gloves and beanie off – but you should still need a sweater.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Hi sugar...I take 4 capsules of 13 different kinds of seedweed everyday..and stay pretty healthy...well till this last problem. also when ever I am around anyone who even sounds like they have a sore throat ,I take echinacea..then follow up with lot's of vit. C. and plenty of water. Great hub G-Ma :O) hugs

    • Sally Dillon profile image

      Sally Dillon 9 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Another good way to not get sick is just to keep saying, "I never get sick!" and REALLY mean it! I never get sick. Really. People drop like flies all around me and I honestly never get sick.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Marissa this is a great article. However I'm not too sure you will get a lot of Canadians to agree to keep their indoor temp close to the one outside right now...(Ha-ha). I believe in your neck of the woods its summer right now...We are having a major winter storm at our side of the world reaching from the mid-west US to the eastcoast of Canada

      Great HUB regards Zsuzsy