12 ways to beat cold and flu symptoms this winter according to health experts

The harsh winter weather is a breeding ground for bugs and viruses, and catching a cold is all too common as temperatures plummet. And while many of us simply get over our ailment quite quickly, others may suffer a sore throat, blocked nose, headache and stuffiness for far longer.

As part of a Covidence UK national study on Coronavirus, researchers from the Queen Mary University in London compared the long-term symptoms of people living with different acute respiratory infections – discovering that the common cold can also have persisting health effects like long Covid.

Ongoing symptoms, which were reported an average of 11 weeks after an initial infection of the cold, included stomach pains and diarrhoea, breathlessness and fatigue, as well as coughing. The study hints at the existence of a long cold – lingering health effects which are currently flying under the radar.

The Mirror reports that Professor Adrian Martineau, Chief Investigator of the study and Clinical Professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Our findings may chime with the experience of people who’ve struggled with prolonged symptoms after having a respiratory infection despite testing negative for Covid-19 on a nose or throat swab.

“Ongoing research into the long-term effects of Covid-19 and other acute respiratory infections is important because it can help us to get to the root of why some people experience more prolonged symptoms than others. Ultimately this could help us to identify the most appropriate form of treatment and care for affected people.”

And while it’s not yet established, it could be that long cold risk is linked to how severe an initial infection is and the duration of it. Thankfully, experts have came up with a number of ways to cut a long cold short.

Antibiotics are a no-go –

Although it may be tempting to ask your GP for antibiotics, these will not tackle the common cold. This is because the ailment is an acute viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, while antibiotics only attack bacterial infections.

Over the counter medicines can offer respite from symptoms, but they will not prevent a cold altogether or shorten its length.

Stay hydrated –

Good hydration is key in reducing the duration and severity of a cold, according to Sebnem Unluisler – who is a Genetic Engineer at the London Regenerative Institute. They said: “The respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts are lined with mucous membranes, which serve as the first line of defence against viruses like the common cold.

“When you are well-hydrated, these membranes stay moist and function optimally, helping to trap and expel viruses more effectively. Proper hydration also supports the immune system, which is crucial for fighting off the cold virus. It allows your immune cells to move efficiently through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to reach infected areas more effectively.”

Sleep it off –

Studies have explained that a lack of sleep can weaken the immune system, which in-turn prolongs recovery from the common cold. Sebnem, added: “When we rest, especially during deep sleep, main repair and maintenance processes take place within the body, including the immune system.

“Cytokines, a diverse group of small proteins that play a crucial role in cell signalling and communication within the immune system, are released when we sleep. They act as messengers, ­transmitting information between different cells in the body, including immune cells, to orchestrate an effective immune response.”

Pelargonium please –

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) suggests pelargonium as a self-care treatment for acute coughs in adults and children over the age of 12.. Dr Richard Middleton, Registered Pharmacist and Director of The British Herbal Medicine Association, said: “Pelargonium extract (derived from the South African geranium) has a well researched history of use and, along with clinical studies, it’s been shown to alleviate symptoms of viral respiratory infections, including colds, coughs, sore throat and blocked or runny nose.

“Studies show the use of pelargonium led to significantly shorter time off work.”

The effectiveness of elderberry –

Aimee Benbow, Head Nutritionist at Viridian Nutrition, said: “Elderberries are high in protective antioxidants and also have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Studies suggest elderberry inhibits viral entry into cells and viral ­replication.

“It’s best taken with ­vitamin C, which also contributes to healthy immune function.”

Listen to your body –

Dr Naiomi Beinart, who is a psychologist and nutritionist, explained that people should focus on relaxation and de-stressing to help their body get fighting fit. She said: “High levels of the stress hormone, cortisol might actually suppress your immune system, taking you longer to recover.”

Seaweed spray –

Carrageenan is a red seaweed extract which can apparently help prevent infections by stopping cold viruses from binding to cell surfaces. Randomised trial data – published in Pharmacology Research and Perspectives – looked at the effects of nasal spray on colds, with scientists concluding that carrageenan may increase the rate of recovery by around 50 per cent.

Clean hands, clean system –

Should you suffer infection from more than one cold virus, it stands to reason that you could be ill for longer. So, if you’re already sick, you should always take extra precautions. Make sure you wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.

Deficiency is detrimental –

According to research, vitamin D supplements can cut the risk of a respiratory infection in half, and a recent UK trial found that supplementation over the winter reduced the duration of colds by 36 per cent, and the peak severity of symptoms by five per cent.

UK health guidelines suggest taking a ten microgram vitamin D supplement each day between October and March.

Honey help –

A review of studies published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine suggested that honey can help improve cold symptoms and shorten its duration by one to two days in some people. This is because it contains anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.

Potentially perfect probiotics –

A Cochrane review of randomised controlled trials suggests that those who take regular probiotics are not only less likely to develop a cold, but if they do get one, it will be shorter than those who do not.

Yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and sourdough bread are all fantastic forms of probiotics.

Warm your nose –

A Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology study suggests that cold air inhibits the nose’s immune response, which fights off colds. Thus, the warmer you keep your nose, the better it will perform in terms of defence.

Why not try covering it with a scarf when going out in the cold?

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