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Keeping Your Family Healthy This Winter

Cold and flu season is here — but there’s plenty we can do to help keep ourselves and our families healthy, advises Sara Diaz, MD.

“Get your flu shot,” she says. “Stay home if you’re sick to prevent sharing germs with classmates or colleagues. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. And ‘catch your cough,’” she notes, referring to the technique of coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow instead  of your hand, so you won’t spread germs when touching a door knob or phone, for example.

“These practices can go a long way to keep a household healthy if they’re used consistently by everyone in the family,” she adds.

The most common conditions Dr. Diaz sees at this time of year are upper respiratory infections related to colds, the flu, asthma flareups and sinus infections (sinusitis). She shares some condition-specific guidance:

Colds

“If you or your child are eating and drinking well with a cold, you don’t need to see the doctor. A cold will generally run its course in about a week, but if breathing problems develop, that’s the time to call your doctor.”

Flu

“It’s absolutely not too late to get a flu shot. Flu season can last as long as into May, so there’s still plenty of time to get the shot. And it doesn’t give you the flu.”

Asthma flare-ups

“There are three common asthma triggers in winter: a cold, allergies and cold weather. With allergies, dust and dust mites lead the pack, along with mold and pet dander. Our homes are closed up in winter and air gets recycled, making things worse."

“Some solutions: get an air purifier, remove anything with obvious mold build-up (especially in basements), make sure air intakes on heating systems are cleaned out (including in the car), and don’t let pets in the bedroom. Plus, weather permitting, open the windows to let in fresh air.”

Sinusitis (inflamed sinuses)

“Sinusitis frequently happens after you have a cold; you start to feel better and — wham! — suddenly you feel worse. It takes a few days of symptoms to diagnose sinusitis, so supportive care at home – inhaling steam, over-the-counter remedies, resting — makes the most sense versus antibiotics, which are only appropriate if there’s an infection.”

Speaking of antibiotics, Dr. Diaz stresses that they are not appropriate for treating colds and flu, which are caused by viruses (and antibiotics only work on infections caused by bacteria).

“It’s time that makes a cold better, not antibiotics,” she says.

“When antibiotics are warranted, be sure to take the complete course — don’t stop when you feel better,” Dr. Diaz emphasizes, comparing it to taking a cake out of the oven after 30 minutes because it looks done on the outside — but the recipe calls for 60 minutes of baking time.

“Take care of your body when you are sick — and get plenty of rest and fluids. And remember — nothing is more important in protecting yourself from contagious viruses than washing your hands appropriately. With every family member practicing good hand hygiene, your chances at a healthy winter drastically improve.”

If you have questions about your family’s winter health needs, be sure to check with your primary care physician or pediatrician

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