Here's everything you need to fight both a cold and the flu—plus, immunity-boosting tips to help keep you sniffle-free all winter long.
This year, Americans will come down with 1 billion colds, and 20 percent of us will get the flu. Many of these cases will occur in the winter, at the peak of cold and flu season. When it's colder and less humid, germs travel faster and hang in the air. This environment allows them to live longer and makes transmission easier, making it more likely that you'll catch or spread an illness-causing bug. While you can't do much to control your exposure to germs, there's plenty you can do to bolster your immune system and fight back against illness.
The first step is identifying if you have a cold or a flu. Although some of the symptoms are similar, these are distinctive conditions, each caused by a different type of virus. While the majority of flu cases are caused by viruses in the family orthomyxovirus (which the flu shot targets), colds can be the result of many different types of viruses. You can tell the difference by asking yourself: "Are symptoms in my head or my whole body?" Colds symptoms appear slowly over a few days and mainly affect your head; you'll have congestion, sneezing, a sore throat or cough. Conversely, the flu affects your whole body and comes on suddenly. You'll experience pain and body aches, GI symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, and a fever.
Luckily, Dr. Oz has solutions to rescue your body from these miserable symptoms. See what to stock up on today to make it through cold and flu season unscathed.
Your First Line of Defense: Saline Nasal Spray
Airborne pathogens enter through your nose and mouth and begin to encroach on your body's protective barriers. As they're absorbed, they can spark an immune reaction and cause a cold or flu. The chances of getting sick are increased if your nasal passages are dry, a common occurrence in cold weather.
Without any lubrication, the nose can't flush out bacteria, which results in a safe haven for germs. That's why the first item in Dr. Oz's Rescue Pack is saline nasal spray. This simple remedy helps to flush out mucus and bacteria. Adding moisture to the nasal passages also helps to combat stuffiness, congestion and further infection. Look for a spray that has purified water and sodium chloride to get the purest, most effective spray.
Next: Find relief for a sore throat, fever or coughThe Fever Fighters: Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen and Towels
A fever is your body's normal response to infection in the form of an increased body temperature. Fevers can cause additional symptoms like shivering, sweating or quickened breathing. Check for a fever by using a thermometer (feeling someone's forehead is not entirely accurate).
If fever is over 100°F or is making you uncomfortable, reach into Dr. Oz's Rescue Kit. Alternate between taking acetaminophen and ibuprofen. This combination of drugs targets different receptors and delivers a one-two punch to fevers. Switch back and forth between them every 4 to 6 hours until your fever is gone or you feel better; be sure not to exceed the maximum dosage for a 24-hour period, as indicated on the package. For a remedy to feel better instantly, try putting cool or wet towels on your neck and underarms. Doing so targets where most major blood vessels run and provides soothing relief.
The Sore-Throat Remedy: Black Currant Lozenges
Experts predict that 15 million people will see the doctor this year for a sore throat. Caused by inflammation, a sore throat from a cold will appear red and most likely be accompanied by a runny nose. Treat the nagging pain with black currant lozenges.
Black currant contains gamma-linoleic acid, a fatty acid that soothes the throat and decreases inflammation. These lozenges are a smart alternative to taking menthol, which provides a cooling sensation but can actually break down your body's good mucus and damage the throat over time. Instead, pick up some black currant lozenges from your local drug store. Additionally, if your throat has white patches or pus, you should consult your doctor. This could be a sign of a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic.
The Cough Quieters: Suppressants With Dextromethorphan or Expectorants with Guaifenesin
The first step to treating a cough is to identify if it is dry or wet. A dry cough occurs when your vocal cords slam together explosively, causing irritation and more coughing. This reflex can actually damage the throat, so you want to use a cough suppressant to stop the symptom entirely. Look for a bottle that says "DM" which stands for dextromethorphan and lasts for 12 hours.
If your cough is accompanied by mucus, it's classified as a wet cough. Look for a syrup or pill with an expectorant, which thins the mucus, clears your airways, and quiets the cough. Choose a product containing the ingredient guaifenesin. Take the recommended dosage with a glass of water to help get rid of congestion and lubricate the throat.
Fighting colds and the flu starts with preventing them in the first place. Try these immunity-boosting tips to get your body's defenses in tip-top shape for cold and flu season.
This winter, add buckwheat honey to your medicine cabinet. High in antioxidants and iron, this dark, rich honey is full of immunity-boosting properties. Try taking 1 to 2 teaspoons a day to get you through cold and flu season. You can enjoy buckwheat honey right off the spoon, or add it to a hot drink for a delicious winter treat.
Studies have shown that taking vitamin D supplements may help prevent the flu. Try 1000 IU per day and 2000 IU per day during the darker winter months of winter, December through March.
Used in both ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, turmeric is said to be a powerful disease-fighter. This yellow spice increases levels of a protein that may help the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. It's also a good source of manganese and potassium, which helps support immunity. As an added bonus, turmeric improves digestion and promotes cardiovascular health. You can take this remedy by mixing 3 teaspoons of turmeric in warm water, or use it to flavor stir-frys, marinades or stews.
What better way to cap off your evening than with a relaxing, disease-fighting cup of tea? Try a type that's a combination of medicinal mushrooms such as shitake, maitake or reishi. Superstars in ancient Chinese medicine, mushrooms are powerhouses that are believed to stop germs from growing inside the body. They also contain selenium, a mineral that boosts the immune system. Enjoy two or more cups in the evening.