The snowy season is good for many things—drinking hot chocolate, building snowmen, the holidays—but if there’s one thing that makes winter a time to loathe, it’s the common cold. Unfortunately, the chilly weather that comes with the winter months weakens your immune system, and so the rhinovirus has easy access to your body as soon as the temperature drops. So what should you do if the virus find its way into your system? For starters, you can avoid doing these 23 things that both make a bad cold worse and put other people at risk of developing getting sick, too.
1 Not Get Enough Sleep
When you come down with a cold, your antibodies need to work overtime to fight off the infection and restore your health—but sleep deprivation takes away your immune system’s ability to do its job. In fact, according to one study published in the journal Sleep, getting less than seven hours of sleep can impair the immune system. And even if you don’t already have a cold, you should be just as concerned with your sleeping habits: Other studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are more susceptible to the rhinovirus.
2 Stress Out
Try to take it easy if and when the rhinovirus enters your system. According to the American Psychological Association, simply being stressed out weakens the immune system and makes it harder for the body to fight off bacteria and viruses, especially in older individuals.
3 Not Drink Enough Water
There’s a reason that doctors recommend drinking at least eight glasses of water every day. Without water, you risk becoming dehydrated—and when you’re dehydrated, you hinder the body’s ability to ward off infections by limiting the secretion of antimicrobial proteins into your saliva.
If your cold is making you cough out all kinds of foreign substances, then lighting up is only going to make your symptoms worse. “When you smoke, you’re irritating and damaging your lungs,” Neelam Taneja-Uppal, MD, an infectious disease specialist, explained to Everyday Health. When you’re sick with a cold, your lungs are already working twice as hard to rid of the infection, and the last thing they need is an influx of cigarette smoke to distract them from their job.
If you suspect that you’re coming down with a cold, then cancel any plans you have coming up that involve copious amounts of alcohol (or any alcohol at all, really). Even if you’re not a frequent drinker, one study published in the journal Alcohol found that just one night of heavy drinking can significantly impair the immune system’s ability to do its job.
6 Exercise Too Hard
Though you might not want to stop your intense workouts just because you have a silly little cold, keeping up with your insane gym schedule while sick could end up prolonging the infection and even making it worse, according to one study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine. The good news? The same study found that, compared to both intense exercise and no exercise at all, a moderate workout is the best remedy when it comes to fighting the common cold, so you don’t have to give up the gym entirely while recovering.
7 Take Antibiotics
By definition, antibiotics are medications used to treat infections caused by bacteria. The rhinovirus, as its name suggests, is caused by a virus. Therefore, not only do antibiotics not work on the common cold, but taking them unnecessarily can make your body resistant to them should you need them later on.
8 Blow Your Nose with Excess Force
According to research published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, blowing your nose with too much force can actually propel mucus into the sinuses and cause a sinus infection. When you’re blowing your nose, your safest bet is to do so gently, clearing out just one nostril at a time.
9 Blow Your Nose Too Often
Blowing your nose too often is just as bad as blowing your nose with too much force. According to the experts at the University of California at Berkeley, turning to the tissues too often “can rupture the small blood vessels in the nose and cause nosebleeds, especially if the mucosal lining is already irritated from a cold.”
10 Cough Into Your Hand
When a coughing fit comes on in a crowded, public space, most people have the immediate instinct to use their hand to cover their mouths and prevent the spreading of germs. But while this gesture comes from a good place, the unfortunately reality is that coughing into your hand is actually worse than just letting it out into the open, as the rhinovirus lives longer on surfaces than it does in the air.
11 Use the Machines at the Gym
For everyone else’s sake, it’s best not to use any of the equipment or machines at the gym until you feel like your cold has left your system. As Dr. Richard Besser, author of Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: Easy-to-Understand Answers to Your Most Confusing and Critical Health Questions, explained to Health: “If you would not like the person next to you on the treadmill or who finishes before you on the elliptical to be sneezing and coughing and wiping their nose, then do your fellow gym mates a favor and do a lighter workout at home instead.”
12 Eat Sugary Sweets
Nobody wants to give up their favorite candies and baked goods, but you’re going to have to—at least for a few days—if you want to get rid of your cold once and for all. Why? “Sugar causes inflammation and this has been shown to decrease immunity by weakening white blood cells,” Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NCL, explained to Eat This, Not That! “These cells are responsible for fighting infection.”
13 Wash Your Hands Too Much
Though doctors recommend washing your hands on a regular basis during cold and flu season to ward off bacteria, doing so in excess can actually weaken your immune system and make you more prone to getting—and staying—sick. That’s according to a study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, which found that kids who had higher levels of soap-derived chemicals in their system were more likely to have allergies. This study just further proves the “hygiene hypothesis,” a theory that states that living in too clean of an environment can harm your immune system and prevent your body from properly fighting infections.
“If you have a cold you can’t get under control by over-the-counter medications, I wouldn’t fly at all,” Jeffrey Linder, M.D., an associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Condé Nast Traveler. Not only does flying while sick put your fellow passengers at risk, but it will also make your in-air experience miserable (read: painfully clogged ears for days) and the ends just don’t justify the means.
15 Drink Orange Juice
Despite what you’ve heard, drinking orange juice actually does more harm than good when it comes to common cold treatment. Because orange juice is so acidic, it will burn the membranes in your throat when you’re sick and further irritate them.
A combination of lack of sleep and medicine-induced drowsiness makes driving with a cold a bad idea. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 72,000 crashes and 44,000 injuries in 2013 were due to drowsy driving—so do yourself and everyone around you a favor and just call an Uber or take public transportation if you really need to get somewhere while you’re sick.
17 Not Consume Vitamin C
Just because you shouldn’t drink orange juice while sick with a cold doesn’t mean that you should skimp on your vitamin C intake. When researchers at the University of Helsinki studied the effects of the vitamin on the virus, they found that people who consumed eight grams of vitamin C per day were able to shorten the duration of their sickness by 19 percent.
Not sure what to eat to obtain vitamin C? Some of the many foods that include high doses of vitamin C include green and red peppers, kale, and broccoli.
18 Or Zinc
When you’re feeling under the weather, another nutrient that you’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough of is zinc. According to one study published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases, people who consume zinc acetate lozenges while sick with a cold recover three times faster than those who aren’t using the lozenge.
19 Or Probiotics
If you want to nip your cold in the bud, then you should seriously up your probiotic intake while your body works to get healthy again. Why? When researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey studied rates of sickness amongst college students, they found that those who took probiotics had symptoms that were 34 percent less severe and colds that were two days shorter compared to the students who didn’t take any supplements.
20 Be Pessimistic
When you have a cold, how you choose to perceive your predicament could be the difference between recovering quickly and suffering for a long time. In fact, according to one study backed by the National Institute of Mental Health, optimistic individuals are less likely to experience the common signs and symptoms associated with the common cold, even when they are infected with the virus.
21 Skip Breakfast
Though breakfast is always important, the morning meal is especially vital when it comes to fighting off a cold. When researchers at Cardiff University studied people with the rhinovirus, they found that one of the factors that played a role in whether their subjects got sick was how often they ate breakfast.
22 Use Too Much Nasal Spray
Be careful about using too much nasal spray on your congested nose. Doing so can cause something called the rebound phenomenon, in which the blood vessels in your nose become immune to the effects of nasal spray and the clogging gets worse.
23 Go to Work
Even if you don’t want to admit to yourself that you’re coming down with something, it’s not fair to go to work with a cold and put your coworkers at risk by coughing and sneezing on everything. Once you start showing symptoms, it can take anywhere from three days to a week before you’re no longer contagious, so always make a conscious effort to cover your mouth with your arm when you cough, use a tissue when you sneeze, or just stay home from work if you can.
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