The holidays are rapidly approaching, which means more parties, more food, more germs, and less sleep.
But doctors offer easy tips and tricks to keep you healthy and thriving throughout the season.
Dr. Thomas Sleweon, medical director of infectious diseases at The Methodist Hospitals, said the first thing people should do heading into the holiday season is get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone get a vaccine annually, starting at age 6 months.
“The most effective way of preventing the flu is by taking the flu vaccine,” he says. “Other things that people can do to avoid getting the flu is to avoid contact with people who may be potentially sick with the flu as well as frequent hand washing or use of hand sanitizer.”
Dr. Christopher Osan, a family practice physician in the Community Care Network Inc. who practices at the Valparaiso Health Center, says it is especially important for people with medical conditions such as diabetes or immune-compromising conditions to be up-to-date on inoculations such as the pneumonia vaccine.
“Viral illnesses can lead to secondary bacterial infections,” he says.
These principles also apply to other respiratory viruses, but there are no vaccines available to prevent other viruses that can cause respiratory infection, Dr. Sleweon says. He noted that not all running noses, sore throats or other upper respiratory symptoms are tied to the flu.
There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of catching a cold, says Dr. Edwin Udani, a member of the Franciscan Physician Network with an office in Schererville.
They include things such as frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face, and using single-use towels.
“Hand washing is highly effective way to prevent the spread of infection. Hands should be wet with water and plain soap and rubbed together for 15 to 30 seconds. Wash under the fingernails, between the fingers, and the wrists,” Dr. Udani says. “Alcohol-based hand rubs are a good alternative for disinfecting hands if a sink is not available.”
He also recommends covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoiding sharing beverages, and dressing for the weather to help reduce the spread of disease, he says.
That, of course, is after getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress, and getting exercise.
“Reducing stress and getting plenty of sleep go hand in hand. Stress also increases cortisol and suppresses the immune system,” he says. “Sedentary lifestyle has been shown to reduce how our immune system responds to infection. Exercise can make the immune system five times better at fighting infection. Exercise can reduce sick days by 25-50 percent.”
While allergies can occur any time of year, plan ahead if you know you’re going to be in a situation where your allergies might flare up, Dr. Sleweon says.
“In case of a seasonal allergy where a person develops symptoms during a particular time of the year, he or she may consider taking medications a week or two before presumed onset,” he says.
Dr. Osan says over-the-counter medications can generally relieve allergy symptoms. For people whose allergies don’t respond to nasal steroid sprays, antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Allegra can help.
“There are other prescription products available, so if your over-the-counter regimen does not adequately treat your allergies, consult your doctor,” he says. “Additionally, your doctor can order tests that can help identify what is causing your allergies and that opens up other treatment options that you can discuss with your doctor.”
But respiratory problems aren't the only illness to combat. According to the CDC, more than 48 million people get sick annually from the foods they eat. You can reduce the instance of food poisoning by washing hands and cooking surfaces often; separating types of food during preparation to prevent cross-contamination; cooking foods to the right temperature; and refrigerating food promptly after serving.
And while there are different types of food-borne illnesses, typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. More severe cases include cramping, diarrhea, dehydration, shock, and kidney and organ failure, which are life-threating, Dr. Sleweon says.
On top of this, Dr. Alyssa M. Pagliere Osan, a family practice physician in Community Care Network, Inc. who practices at the Valparaiso Health Center, said it’s important to try to control portion sizes and choose healthier options.
“Go for the vegetables and fruits and limit the pies, cookies, and cakes,” she says. “It’s also important to limit your alcohol intake and exercise, even if it is just a brisk walk. Take a walk after your meal and encourage the entire group to join you.”