As any commuter will tell you, the threat of catching a cold is everywhere – from your sniffling co-passenger to that handrail everyone’s been touching. And it’s not just paranoia; one study by the University of Nottingham in 2011 found those who use public buses or trams were up to six times more likely to catch the common cold.
In fact, up to 15% of the population will be struck down with a cold virus during the winter months, according to data from the World Health Organization.
Here are some top tips to help you avoid picking up a cough or cold on public transport this winter.
As sneezes and coughs can travel a large distance very quickly, standing sideways to them is safer than standing directly opposite. If they do sneeze or cough, try not to breathe in for a few seconds.
Surfaces like handles, buttons and handrails are key places for cold viruses to linger, but whether you pick them up depends on the length of time the virus has been on the surface, the amount of virus deposited by an infected person and, if you then transfer the bugs by touching your eyes and nose, the ‘optimal portal’ for entry.
If you see a sick person touching certain surfaces, avoid contact with the same ones but if you have to, definitely don’t touch your nose or eyes afterwards.
There is no particular ‘hotspot’ for colds and other viruses on public transport; it can be any place where people’s hands leave behind a reasonable amount of virus that will then be touched by another person. Be aware of escalator handrails, ticket machines, maps, etc too, not just the handrails on the bus or Tube.
When you’re on the go, use an alcohol-based antibacterial hand gel, known to kill viruses, after taking public transport. However, washing your hands with soap and water is best, so do that when you arrive at work or get home. If you’re really worried, it doesn’t hurt to wipe down any handrails with an antiseptic wipe.
Try to sit in emptier areas such as the back of the bus, or in train carriages which are less full than others – this minimises your risk of sitting near infected people.
If you are on a train with windows, try to open them to get as much ventilation as possible – this reduces your risk of breathing in airborne viruses.
And if you’re the one with the cold? Stay at home – as well as protecting your fellow commuters, your colleagues will thank you for not spreading those germs all around the office too.
The Flu season is upon us and is generally considered to be the worst time of year for COPD patients and others that suffer from respiratory conditions. Because COPD often affects the immune system, as well as the ability to recover from common illnesses, you need to be vigilant to try and protect yourself from catching colds and the flu. Sometimes its difficult to tell whether you’ve just got a cold or the flu, but as both can exacerbate COPD it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two.
A cold usually begins with a sore throat followed by clear, watery nasal drainage, sneezing, fatigue and sometimes a slight fever. A mild cough is a common cold symptom and usually lasts into the second week of the cold. If you are coughing up dark mucus then you may have a bacterial infection and should see your doctor. A more severe fever or other symptoms would indicate that it is more likely to be the flu. With the flu your symptoms are more severe and you can feel very weak and fatigued for up to three weeks.
Each year the typical adult can expect to contract a cold twice and 50% risk of catching the flu. When you have conditions such as COPD your immune system is compromised and the damage to your lungs and airways and reduce the normal effect that the body has at naturally protecting itself from germs. There are lots of tips on how to prevent yourself from getting ill, to avoid exacerbations and to cut short the duration and reduce symptoms of your illness.
Eat yogurt for breakfast
The same live cultures that help ease digestive distress can help stave off a cold. Scientists found that people who consumed probiotics had 12 percent fewer upper respiratory infections. Research also showed that the group that took a probiotic supplement with Lactobacillus rhamnosus recovered two days earlier and had symptoms that were 34 percent less severe.
Open a window
Spending the day in a stuffy room with anyone who’s under the weather raises your risk of catching a bug. Letting a little fresh air circulate keeps airborne viral particles on the move, making them harder to pick up.
Turn away from sneezers
Moving out of firing range is crucial as germs carried in sneeze particles can travel 20 feet.
Stop touching your lips
Not touching your face greatly reduces your odds of getting sick. The average person puts a hand on her mouth or nose more than three times an hour. To break the habit, try sitting on your hands when they’re idle.
Get regular sleep
A study found that subjects who slept for fewer than seven hours were nearly three times as susceptible to colds as people who slept for at least eight hours.
Flush out your nose
Throughout cold season, add this to your night-time routine: Rinse your nose using an over-the-counter nasal irrigator or saline solution as it will help clear out viral particles you’ve breathed in during the day before they take root in your system.
Try taking these within 24hrs of the onset of a cold and it will reduce the duration. You can also eat zinc-rich foods. Zinc is a mineral essential to the cells of the immune system and can boost your libido, help wound healing and prevent excessive inflammation.
Fluids help to thin out the mucus that your body makes when you’re sick and makes it easier to clear out of your system.
Try elderberry extract
A syrup made from these berries has long been used as a folk remedy for viral infections. The berries’ nutrients seem to offer some relief from congestion, aches and pains and can cut short flu symptoms by four days.
Switch on a humidifier
Dry indoor air makes a sore throat and cough even worse. A humidifier helps these symptoms become more bearable by filling the air you breathe with moisture.
Inhale essential oils
Several times a day, add a few drops of thyme or eucalyptus oil to boiling water, then breathe in the aromatic steam. The menthol-like smell should make your airways feel as if they’re opening up. It’s also thought that antimicrobial particles in these essential oils coat the mucous membrane lining the nasal cavity.
A bit of light exercise such as walking or yoga can make you feel better and boost your circulation but don’t overdo it as your body needs to conserve energy to fight off the virus.
Gargle with warm salt water
Salt helps kill pathogens and by coating your throat with a salt solution (1/2 teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water) will ease inflammation and loosen mucus, which helps flush out germs.
Heat up chicken soup
The steam helps open stuffed-up nasal passages, and the salty broth can soothe a sore throat. Research published found that chicken soup has properties that slow the movement of infection-fighting white blood cells; when they move more slowly, they spend more time in the areas of the body that need them most.
Have a spoonful of honey
Honey is believed to be antimicrobial, and its thick, syrupy consistency coats and soothes an irritated throat.
Prop yourself up
When you lie on your back, mucus collects in your sinus cavities, which can lead to secondary infections or chronic sinusitis. Instead, try resting and sleeping at a 45-degree angle. Sitting up slightly will also help blood flow away from the head reducing inflammation of the sinuses and nose.
General tips this flu season include:
Washing your hands regularly. Something as simple as a shopping trolley handle, or even a doorknob, can harbour germs. These germs are then entered into our respiratory tract when we touch our face. Washing your hands regularly will reduce the likelihood of catching an illness.
Avoid people who are sick. Avoid being in crowded places in public where possible, perhaps go shopping in quieter periods. Consider wearing a surgical masks when you are around large groups of people during peak cold and flu seasons.
Diet is very important in COPD management. Aa person with COPD uses a large amount of calories just to breathe and it is important that you get enough “healthy” calories each day to offset this deficit. You should be eating balanced meals and they should also be smaller and more frequent throughout the day. Large meals can actually cause breathlessness (if you use oxygen, wear it while you eat) and digesting large meals actually consumes a large amount of calories that you need to breathe.
Get into a regular exercise Doing a little bit each day will improve your health and medical conditions and help to prevent contracting any more illnesses however ensure it is an exercise routine that is safe, comfortable and effective for you. Talk to your doctor for suggested exercise types that would suit you.
References: www.copdfoundation.org and http://edition
It’s a depressing thought but autumn is just around the corner and with a change in weather there comes the increased chance of catching a cold. If you have COPD or emphysema then you probably already know how miserable it feels when you catch a cold as breathing is already a strain. Not only does catching a cold worsen your ability to breathe, but it also increases your chance of catching a more serious respiratory tract infection.
A cold is a viral respiratory illness, which normally affects your nose and throat but can affect your airways as well. A COPD patient already suffers from damaged airways and a cold will hinder your breathing further and cause other changes:
• An increase in phlegm
• An increase in the thickness or stickiness of the phlegm
• A change in phlegm colour to yellow or green
• The presence of blood in the phlegm
• An increase in the severity of shortness of breath, cough, or wheezing
• A general feeling of ill health
• Difficulty sleeping
• Increased fatigue
Respiratory infections are responsible for 70% of cases where a patient’s COPD status has worsened. Catching a cold can open you up to a greater risk of developing more severe respiratory infections. Pneumonia is a common infection in COPD patients as the airways are obstructed and the body cannot cough up infected mucus.
Sometimes patients will require hospitalisation due to the worsening of their symptoms from a respiratory infection. It is important to always inform your doctor if your cold symptoms get worse and not wait until you have more serious breathing problems.
If you catch a cold then ensure you stay on your prescribed COPD medications and then decide, with your doctor, what else to take to treat the cold symptoms.
You might treat the body aches and fever associated with a cold with ibuprofen. Although antihistamines can be helpful if you have mild allergy symptoms, you should avoid them if you constantly have thick mucus; they may make it more difficult for you to cough up the phlegm.
Most over-the-counter cold remedies are generally safe for people with emphysema and chronic bronchitis. However, decongestants raise blood pressure and some of the drugs used to treat emphysema and chronic bronchitis can also increase your heart rate. Use cold remedies with caution, especially if you have high blood pressure or other heart issues in addition to COPD. Again, ask your doctor about medications for cold symptoms.
Patients who use supplemental oxygen should ensure their equipment is kept hygienically clean, especially when friends/family/carers come round who may have a cold or be the carrier of the cold virus. Some patients feel safer using their mask rather than their nasal cannula as it covers their nose and mouth to reduce the chance of breathing in germs. If you are trying to keep active then some use their masks and portable concentrators when going outside or when among crowds, not only to support breathing function but to protect from potential viral germs. Some patients also find that if they do feel cold symptoms coming on then using oxygen when they sleep overnight and using it more during the day helps prevent symptoms from worsening.
The best way to treat a cold is to prevent one, here are some general tips to help you avoid catching a cold:
• Wash your hands regularly.
• Avoid crowds during cold and flu season.
• Avoid cigarette smoke and air pollutants.
• Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
• Stop smoking.
• Make sure you are using your inhalers correctly.