woman with cough and cold

How to Protect Yourself this Cough & Cold Season

Dr. Selena Colarossi, RPh, PharmD, BASc

Written by: Dr. Selena Colarossi, RPh, PharmD, BASc

Updated: April 1st, 2024

Fall is a beloved season for many, with its vibrant leaves, cozy sweaters, and pumpkin-spiced everything. However, it also ushers in a less desirable aspect—the onset of cough and cold season. As temperatures drop and people spend more time indoors, close quarters and decreased ventilation create ideal conditions for the spread of respiratory viruses. 

While you’re preparing your house for fall holidays and your child for back to school, don’t forget to prepare your body for flu season, too. Not sure how? Keep reading to learn more about the immune system, protecting yourself against cough and cold viruses, and treating common seasonal illnesses. 

The Immune System

What is the Immune System?

The immune system refers to a collection of cells, chemicals and processes that function to protect the skin, airways, gut and other areas from foreign organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and parasites, viruses, cancer cells, and toxins[1]. In simpler terms, the immune system protects the body from invaders – and keeps it healthy.

The immune system, like all other systems in the body, can become impaired, weaken, or even fail. When this happens, all the bad organisms that the immune system was keeping out can attack the body and cause disease or illness like a cold or flu. Sometimes the immune system becomes overactive, which leads to inflammation, or even auto-immune disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease or type I diabetesi.

What Causes a Weak Immune System?

There are many different factors that can contribute to a weak immune system, some of these include: 

Signs of a Weakened Immune System

If the above list doesn’t apply to you, or you are unsure if you have any nutrient deficiencies or chronic conditions, there are still some ways to tell that you are suffering from a weakened immune system ahead of this cough and cold season. You may feel as if you are constantly sick – catching everything that is going around the office, school or community, without catching a break! You may feel extreme fatigue, have more cold sores or eczema flare ups than usual, or even experience a shingles outbreaks. 

Ultimately, if you are feeling any of this, or simply feeling “off” or consistently under the weather, you should discuss your signs and symptoms with your doctor. They can order bloodwork or other tests and try to determine the root cause of your symptoms, while also ruling out anything serious.

Preventing Infection

Now that you know what the immune system is and what can happen when it’s not working well, it’s time to talk about how to achieve and maintain a healthy one, especially during flu season.

Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is a key contributor to a healthy immune system. Poor nutrition is known to impair the immune system, which makes you more susceptible to sickness[7]. Likewise, sufficient protein intake is crucial for optimal antibody production, and micronutrient deficiencies, such as of vitamin A or zinc, have been associated with increased infection risk[8]

Probiotics and Vitamins

We know that the gut is the “gatekeeper” of your health, and good nutrition habits help promote and maintain gut health by supporting the growth of good bacteria, and helping to maintain a balanced gut microbiome. Probiotics, like Culturelle’s Immune Defense Probiotic, help keep your immune system going strong, promote overall wellness and help support gastrointestinal health. Culturelle’s Immune Defense Probiotic not only provides 10 Billion CFU’s of the clinically proven strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG®)++ but is also packed with a daily dose of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, zinc and naturally sourced elderberry. 

Other Tips

Get a good night’s sleep as much as possible, as lack of sleep contributes to a weakened immune system. Also, try to get your steps in, or do whatever form of exercise you prefer! Exercise contributes to overall health and immune function, and reduces your risk for chronic conditions like type II diabetes and heart disease that can negatively impact the immune system.

Avoid getting or spreading cough, cold and flu viruses by practicing good hand hygiene, i.e., handwashing and sanitizing. Remember to clean high-contact surfaces around the house with an adequate disinfectant to prevent the spread of illness between family members, or to and from guests.

Vaccinations

Immunizations are an excellent way to protect yourself against viruses and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Important vaccines to consider during or before the flu season (and depending on your age) include those that protect against flu, covid-19, pneumococcal disease, shingles and RSV. 

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends the flu vaccine annually for anyone 6 months and older[9]. It is especially recommended for high-risk individuals including children, the elderly, immunocompromised, and pregnant individualsvii. Even if you don’t feel that you are at much of a risk for flu complications, consider your elderly or newborn loved ones who may be in your home, or in your close circle of friends and family.

Treating Your Cough and Cold

No matter how hard you try to prevent it, getting sick during the cough and cold season can sometimes be unavoidable. If you do get sick, make sure you:

If your child is sick, be sure to keep them home from school or day-care for a few days so the whole class doesn’t catch it – we know how frustrating this can be for parents!

Medications

Most coughs and colds are caused by viruses that are “self-limiting”, this means they will go away without any treatment[10]. There are many over-the-counter medications that can improve symptoms of cough, fever, headache, sinus pain or runny nose. Be sure to talk to your pharmacist about which medications are right for you, and your symptoms. 

If you have a cough, sinus pain, fever or any other symptom that lingers, worsens or causes alarm, make sure to seek medical treatment. Some cough and cold viruses can lead to other, more serious illnesses like pneumonia, bronchitis or ear infections that may require antibiotics and other prescription medications.

When to Start Preparing for Flu Season

Much like the fall colour changes on the trees, strengthening the immune system doesn’t happen overnight. It’s best not to wait until you are feeling sick to start making changes to your routine. Introduce healthy habits like proper sleep, exercise, a balanced diet, and taking a probiotic as early as you can. Get you and your family up to date on vaccinations, and grab some OTC medications to have on hand in case of cough or fever. 

By achieving and maintaining a healthy immune system, you can enjoy some peace of mind (and some apple picking) this flu season without the constant worry of getting sick or stuck in bed!

References:

1.Marshall, J. S., Warrington, R., Watson, W., & Kim, H. L. (2018). An introduction to immunology and immunopathology. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, 14(Suppl 2), 49. https://aacijournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13223-018-0278-1
2.Batista, K. S., Cintra, V. M., Lucena, P. A. F., Manhães-de-Castro, R., Toscano, A. E., Costa, L. P., Queiroz, M. E. B. S., de Andrade, S. M., Guzman-Quevedo, O., & de S Aquino, J. (2021). The role of vitamin B12 in viral infections: A comprehensive review of its relationship with the muscle–gut–brain axis and implications for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Nutrition Reviews, nuab092. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8689946/
3.Schwalfenberg, G. K., Genuis, S. J., & Hiltz, M. N. (2010). Addressing vitamin D deficiency in Canada: A public health innovation whose time has come. Public Health, 124(6), 350-359. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20413135/
4.Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the Immune System. J Investig Med, 59(6), 881–886. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
5.Raje, N., & Dinakar, C. (2015). Overview of Immunodeficiency Disorders. Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America, 35(4), 599–623. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4600970/
6.Mor, G., & Cardenas, I. (2010). The Immune System in Pregnancy: A Unique Complexity. American Journal of Reproductive Immunology (New York, N.Y. : 1989), 63(6), 425–433. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025805/
7.Childs, C. E., Calder, P. C., & Miles, E. A. (2019). Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients, 11(8), 1933. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723551/
8.Iddir, M., Brito, A., Dingeo, G., Sosa Fernandez Del Campo, S., Samouda, H., La Frano, M. R., & Bohn, T. (2020). Strengthening the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress through Diet and Nutrition: Considerations during the COVID-19 Crisis. Nutrients, 12(6), 1562. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7352291/
9.Government of Canada. (2023, May). Influenza Vaccine: Canadian Immunization Guide. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-immunization-guide-part-4-active-vaccines/page-10-influenza-vaccine.html
10.Allan, G. M., & Arroll, B. (2014). Prevention and treatment of the common cold: Making sense of the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 186(3), 190–199. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3928210/

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