How NOT to Get Sick, Two Doctors Dish on Staying Healthy

There may be nothing as unsettling as a television advertisement featuring a coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nose-blowing,  person who is obviously sick.  But after the “back to school” and “Halloween” ads, end, the cold and flu ads begin to arrive.  If it makes you uncomfortable to view someone’s misery on television, it’s even more miserable when you are the actual person with the cold or flu!

How can we lead healthier and more satisfying lives and not get sick (or at least not so often, or with such severity)?  It’s not really magic.  For starters, it is a myth that you can only catch a cold in the Winter because that’s where germs like it. While cool weather does seem to bring on a proliferation of colds and flu, some of the worst colds you can get, are the Summer variety!

this rhinovirus looks pretty, but it can make you pretty miserable

The most common cause of colds and the flu is the rhinovirus, which enters through the nostrils and lives in nasal passages.  It’s sneezing, coughing and breathing that transmits droplets filled with virus particles right into your nasal passages when you simply, breathe. In addition, the virus can live on skin for 2 hours, so if you shake someone’s hand (or grasp that door handle, subway pole, etc.)  and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you can become infected.  According to Dr. Jahn, an esteemed ENT at Columbia Physicians and Surgeons, you can be a carrier and not even have any of the symptoms.  So, for example, if you have a drinking glass in your bathroom and you and your partner both use it, and one of you is infected (but doesn’t realize it), your partner can be the one who gets the symptoms we all associate with the miseries of cold and flu.  Cold viruses can live on pens, computer keyboards, coffee mugs, and other objects for hours, so it’s easy to come into contact with such viruses during daily life.  If you have children, you’re already aware that “junior” is likely to carry lots of diseases home from daycare, school and play dates. But the main reason people get sick is that they’ve made “contact” with the air around a rhinovirus carrier.

Most simple colds last between eight and nine days, but some severe colds can literally, last for weeks.  The good news is that there are ways you can keep from making your cold a bad one. For starters, if you are in generally good health, you can fend off the virus without getting very sick. However, if you are not in good health, or have an unhealthy lifestyle (stress is a killer), then you are going to be more susceptible to colds and flu.   It is vital to do what all doctors prescribe for a happier, healthier life: eat well, sleep well, live well, and reduce stress. (more on that in a moment)

Dr. Anthony F. Jahn, an esteemed Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) with a special interest in voice disorders and ear diseases (he treats opera singers from the Metropolitan Opera, among others),  is also  Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. This man knows a truckload about colds and flu and how to avoid and treat them.  He suggests that you avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, and he also told editors at a recent Ocean Nasal Saline event that some of the cold pills people pop dry out the nasal passages to the point where they may be doing more harm than good. Although we shake hands as a greeting without thinking much about it, avoiding shaking hands when you are sick is an absolute must. While you can’t avoid the social convention all the time, it’s probably best to limit shaking hands when you can. Use hand sanitizers and wash your hands frequently.  But if you are in an enclosed space where someone is coughing or sneezing, one of the only ways you can protect yourself is to avoid getting the rhinovirus in your nasal passages by wearing a scarf around your face, or a mask.  That may be impractical for some, but it’s common, in Japan, for example.

If you do get a cold, Vitamin D,  Zinc, garlic, and even chicken soup, can help reduce the symptoms, although they can’t cure the cold. Dr. Jahn also suggests something you might at first find counter-intuitive: don’t over blow your nose. That can sometimes make symptoms even worse by sending infectious mucus into your ears and sinuses. A better idea is to always keep your nasal passages hydrated.  Although I haven’t tried it during cold and flu season, Dr. Jahn says that if you flush out your nasal passages with something like Ocean Nasal Spray within five minutes of being sneezed on or at, you might be able to ward off the rhinovirus from sticking around.  And, if you already have blocked nasal passages, irrigating and hydrating them instead of constantly blowing can help thin mucus so you don’t feel so congested.  At the event I attended, several editors said they carry saline in their handbags.  I guess regular nasal irrigation can help clear your passages and relieve your symptoms, although maybe it wouldn’t be completely practical to always irrigate your nasal passages any time, anywhere.

In fact, before I get off the topic of nasal irrigation, I have to say that I tried it, with Ocean Complete Sinus Rinse (Srp. $14.99), billed as “complete daily nasal care.”  The 6 fl. oz. spray can comeds with two nozzels:  orange for a gentle wash and white for a moisturizing mist. It’s like a Neti pot, but safer,  since it is in a sterile can, there is a lot less change of infection. But the “gentle wash” sprayed all over my glasses and down the front of my blouse, and was a bit startling.  The white tip was a bit more pleasant, but it was still a bit uncomfortable, at least for a first-time novice. However, about ten minutes later, I felt as though I was breathing a bit better, especially since (as I write this)  it is goldenrod season and I’m slightly allergic to it.  If nothing else, my nasal passages felt less “sticky” and blocked.  And although I didn’t love the irrigation, my nose felt better all day and night.  That was a pleasant and unexpected, surprise, So as strange as it sounds, nasal hydration and irrigation was a good experience!

All of these things Dr. Jahn and I have suggested above, are inexpensive, and might save you priceless hours, days or weeks of cold and flu misery. If you haven’t tried the Ocean Complete or the portable, Ocean Premium Saline Nasal Spray (Srp. $4.99 1.8 oz bottle; $5.99 3.5 oz. bottle, and a 1.5 oz,. bottle plus travel size .76 oz bottle is also $4.99)  in a plastic squeeze bottle, it’s well worth a try.


Which brings me to another issue and another esteemed doctor’s advice at about to reduce stress and lead a happier and healthier (and perhaps more beautiful), life.  Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD, believes that  Emotional Self-Care is key to mental and physical well-being.  At a recent editor’s event one day after the event with Dr. Jahn for Ocean Saline, Dr. Murad (who also has an excellent line of MURAD  skin care products), outlined the reasons why we are so stressed out and therefore, so unhappy and unhealthy.  In his book The Water Secret: The Cellular Breakthrough to Look and Feel 10 Years Younger (Wiley, September 2010), Dr. Murad explains what stress is, and how we can better manage it.

Stress is typically felt by most people who experience it by irritability, heart racing, and their face feels hot, headaches or upset stomach, an impending feeling of doom and even the smallest factors can irritate most.  Studies show that when subjected to constant stress, humans can develop certain life-threatening afflictions, including heart attacks and strokes. However, Dr. Murad believes that cultural stress is what is ailing most of us. We are over-connected, over-achievers who cannot possibly do all that is expected of us. As a result, we feel like failures, and feel bad about ourselves. As he pointed out, we don’t really celebrate and love ourselves enough.  He gave the example of what most people feel is the happiest time of their lives, which would be early childhood. The reason we’re so happy is that we have no responsibilities and don’t have any standards or obligations we need to live up to. We follow our dreams and fantasies without any repercussions. And that’s just for starters. Dr. Murad also believes that healthy, hydrated cells, help the body fight aging and disease and more importantly, the ruinous effects of Cultural Stress.

According to Dr. Murad, stress causes our cells and connective tissue to break down, which in turn prevents our heart, lungs, brain, and other organs from functioning at optimal levels – all of which become apparent when you look at the skin.  (that’s the beauty part).

If you want to stay healthy, feel better, and stay well, here are some ways to reduce stress

Get Connected:  We are too isolated, Dr. Murad advised us. Get involved in community events, exercise classes, professional groups or associations, book clubs, potluck dinner nights with your friends, charity events at your children’s schools or volunteer at a nearby nonprofit or take a class at a local community college.

Disconnect: There’s an odd duality to being attached to machines that allow us to connect with others around the world in an instant. In a nutshell put down your phones!  Take time at least twice a week to not check your phone or email. It’s a healthy mental break.  Find your passion and pursue it. If you used to love painting, or pottery, scrap-booking or some other hobby, re-introduce it into your life.  Try something new and find a new passion, too!

Start Your Day Off Right:  Instead of just guzzling a latte, try eating a handful of berries (vitamin C), six to eight ounces of low-fat yogurt (calcium and magnesium), and a slice of whole grain toast with natural peanut butter.  Whole grains are loaded with B vitamins, while peanut butter contains fatty acids that can decrease the production of stress hormones.  Peanut butter will also keep you satisfied longer.

Eat Well:  The omega-3 fats in salmon (often called “brain food”) as well as other cold-water fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and olives have numerous proven health benefits, including those that protect your heart.   While Dr. Murad suggests drinking 8 glasses of water a day, he also says you can “drink” your water by eating raw fruits and vegetables that have a lot of water in them. These also make you feel more full, so you don’t binge so much. But, he cautions, eat 80% healthy and 20% of the foods that you crave. If you ignore those cravings, completely, your body screams until you give it what it wants.

Exercise:  Exercising regularly nourishes the skin with oxygen while sweating flushes out toxins. It will also improve digestion and increase one’s metabolism and endocrine function so that the entire body is functioning at an optimal level.

According to Dr. Murad, “Healthy skin is a reflection of overall wellness.”  When the body is at optimal health, the skin will follow suit.   Both Dr. Jahn and Dr. Murad offered editors these tips in time for us to share them with you, our readers.  However, if you do get sick you might want to read  last season’s article: Who Knew? There’s Etiqeutte to Help You Fight the Flu  so you don’t give it to others.

About Advicesisters

Alison Blackman Dunham aka. “Advice Sister Alison” and “The Advice Sisters” is a writer, photographer, online advisor, and lifestyles consultant. She has built her reputation offering readers a unique perspective on life, in print, in person and through the camera lens. Her focus is on advice, beauty, fashion, lifestyles, relationships and things that help make life easier, more successful and more fun. Please follow Alison on Twitter @advicesisters and check out her other web (advice-related) sites: &

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