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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Colds - A most unwelcome winter visitor

With a winter cold going through my family like a six year old through Christmas wrapping paper, I thought a column about avoiding winter sniffles and flu bugs would be a good idea. I will concede my judgment maybe clouded a bit given that I am popping cold pills like Pez. I will also concede that most of what I will write in this column is far from ground breaking medical research, and is as likely to come from your grandmother than the latest issue of the Journal of the AMA.
You can try digging a deep hermetically sealed bunker to spend each winter and attempt to avoid a cold or flu; but in addition to contracting cabin fever, you would miss out on the wonderful winter sports, and the sights of North Idaho covered in white. So, if living in a bunker is not your future, I first suggest trying to avoid hugging and kissing anyone who currently has a cold and washing your hands often in case holiday relatives ambush you. You can also help yourself before you even come out of your bunker by eating well, and getting plenty of rest.
The Chinese have a proverb that maintains, “The superior doctor prevents sickness; the mediocre doctor attends to impending sickness; the inferior doctor treats actual sickness.” I agree with this basic premise; all things considered, avoiding the cold or flu in the first place is the preferred course of action. This can be especially difficult if someone in your family has a cold and it falls to you to nurse them back to health. At the risk of being redundant, dispose of tissues immediately, wash your hands often, and limit how much you touch your face. If you share a keyboard or register at your work, make sure you disinfect the keyboard as often as possible.
Go to the Doc and get your flu shot. I know, some of you don’t believe in immunizations and truth be told I am not fired up about needles either, but there is now a flu immunization that is administered by a nasal mist. The flu can be fatal to certain populations such as the very young and the very old, so in addition to preventing yourself from feeling like Death warmed over for a few days, you will be doing something very nice for people you may never know.
Taking a multivitamin and even certain herbal supplements such as Echinacea are believed to help the body’s immune system, while green and black teas provide antioxidants. Honey can coat a scratchy throat, while menthol can help open nasal passages. In the last few years, I have read research documenting the benefits of chicken soup, stress reduction and, believe it or not, physical activity. Several of my family members are convinced that a hot toddy (comprised of a cup of hot water, a splash of lemon juice, a tablespoon of honey and a shot of whiskey) is helpful. They also maintain that in a pinch, all of the ingredients except the shot of whiskey are optional!
I wish you and yours a happy and very healthy New Year. Hopefully by following some of these ideas you will avoid the colds and flu so many of us will sniffle our way through. Of course, if you are so blessed to avoid being sick you could commiserate with us just a bit and not be so smug when we whine a bit.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

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