25 Tips to Stay Well in Cold and Flu Season | Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior

25 Tips to Stay Well in Cold and Flu Season

Emergen-C Tangerine flavor

This post is a response to questions about how to navigate cold and flu season with Rheumatoid Disease (RD).

Flu shots are now center stage at grocery stores and pharmacies across the US. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), flu season can begin as early as October. There’s plenty of advice about staying well in flu season, but not specifically targeted for those living with chronic illness or an immune-mediated disease. Doing yoga and taking Echinacea are helpful for some, but there’s no substitute for old-fashioned hygiene, and those of us with RD may need to kick it up a notch.

Obviously the most essential tip to avoid getting sick with cold or flu is washing hands thoroughly and frequently.

Here’s 25 more ways to avoid becoming a flu victim this year

Be as healthy as possible

flu shot window sign1)  Get plenty of rest, and whatever works for you to reduce stress.

2)  Eat a healthy diet, and drink plenty of water. It’s cliché, but still worthwhile.

3)  Get fresh air every day, even if it’s a short walk or sitting on a porch swing.

4)  Exercise as you are able.

Reduce your exposure to germs in public

5)  Avoid shaking hands or close personal contact.

6)  Use your personal pen at a cashier or doctor’s office.

7) Don’t place silverware on a table in restaurants; leave it placed on napkin or plate.

8)  Don’t touch your face – I read we touch our faces 16 times per hour. As an added benefit, your makeup will stay on longer.

9)  Don’t touch public doorknobs (use paper or your clothing).

10)  Recognize common objects in offices, fitness centers, and stores likely harbor germs. Try to avoid touching with your fingers, or wash as soon as possible afterwards.

Combat germs at home

11)  Disinfect areas commonly touched by others, especially moist places where germs lurk: sinks, toilet handles, and laundry room.

12)  Use your own towel – not a shared towel. Or use paper towels.

13)  Use your own toothpaste tube.

14)  Clean & replace toothbrush frequently.

15)  Disinfect common objects like phones, remote controls, light switches, and doorknobs.

Fight back against contact with bacteria and viruses

Wet Ones germ killing wipes16)  If you have to touch public items or go on an elevator or escalator, clean your hands as soon as possible afterwards.

17)  Get vaccinated against this year’s viruses. (Vaccination is a personal choice – here’s my story.)

18)  Keep anti-bacterial wipes in car & purse.

19)  Use a public hand sanitizer pump if that’s all that’s available, touching the pump with a tissue or your arm instead of hand.

Might work: many claim these help colds and flu

20)  Powder vitamin supplement (Emergen-C)

21)  Zinc lozenges

22)  Eat probiotic foods (list here)

NOTE: If you have an immune-mediated disease (such as RD), taking supplements like Echinacea that can boost immune function is controversial and may not be beneficial.

Safe use of over-the-counter flu medications

23)  Keep a log of medication doses to avoid over-dosing.

24)  Read medicine labels to avoid overlapping ingredients.

25)  Check with your pharmacist about drug interactions with usual medications.

Do you have more tips to help others stay well in cold and flu season?

Recommended reading

Disclaimer for RAW website

Kelly O'Neill

Kelly O'Neill (formerly Kelly Young) has worked about 12 years as an advocate helping patients to be better informed and have a greater voice in their healthcare. She is the author of the best-selling book Rheumatoid Arthritis Unmasked: 10 Dangers of Rheumatoid Disease. Kelly received national acknowledgement with the 2011 WebMD Health Hero award. She is the president of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation. Through her writing and speaking, she builds a more accurate awareness of rheumatoid disease (RD) aka rheumatoid arthritis (RA) geared toward the public and medical community; creates ways to empower patients to advocate for improved diagnosis and treatment; and brings recognition and visibility to the RA patient journey. In addition to RA Warrior, she writes periodically for newsletters, magazines, and websites. There are over 60,000 connections of her highly interactive Facebook page. You can also connect with Kelly on Twitter or YouTube, or LinkedIn. She created the hashtag: #rheum. Kelly is a mother of five, longtime home-schooler, NASA enthusiast, and NFL fan. She has lived over fourteen years with unrelenting RD. See also https:/rawarrior.com/kelly-young-press/

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21 thoughts on “25 Tips to Stay Well in Cold and Flu Season

  • November 11, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Great tips Kelly! Even ppl without RD should follow these. On the subject of immune boosting herbs, PRD DO NOT DO IT! I had studied herbs for years before my encounter with the beast RD 4 years ago and can strongly recommend for all us to stay clear of Echinacea and Elderberry…we take toxic meds to suppress the immune system, we don’t need immune boosting herbs to counter act the meds.

    I have been lucky to have stayed well these past 4 years despite hubby having some mighty bad colds and being around ppl who are sick. At the first twinge of feeling like something creepy is hanging around I boost the Vit C and take a homeopathic product called UMCKA FAST ACTIVES powder packets…made by Natures Way, I get it at the Vitamin Shoppe. There are a lot of natural cold products but most of them have Echinacea or Elderberry in them and I searched far and wide to discover this. It has knocked out the creepies right away. I also get a flu vaccine and had the pneumonia vac 3 years ago…

    Here’s hoping all the Warriors can stay well this season with your tips! Thanks Kelly 🙂

    • November 12, 2013 at 11:39 am

      I have been on Humira for 10 years and am currently in a RD flare and on prednisone. I had an appointment with an integrative medicine clinic. The P.A. suggested Echinacea and also said I was allergic to Gluten. She wanted me to have blood tests. I finally left without tests because I am on prednisone. How do you know what “alternative” steps to take? I am suspicious of pay cash for each and every test. Am I too cautious? Who to trust? Had I not read your experience last night, I would have gone along with the Echinacea.

  • November 11, 2013 at 11:15 am

    I have found my inner “Monk” since starting MTX. In church yesterday two little girls were coughing. (Ugh). Did you know more people will go to church when sick than will go to work? I felt bad after I scowled at dh over it because these little girls have a parent in prison and are brought to church by a couple that has reached to them. My last bought with a flu-like virus put me in the hospital being tested for leukemia and I cannot go through that again.

    • November 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

      inner Monk. 😉
      Yes, it can be much more serious for us. I was channeling you as you described scowling & then feeling bad. I guess if we feel the danger of a situation is too much, we can move to the back or leave.

      • November 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm

        I just hate to move since I don’t find my seat in congregation until after I’m done with the choir (we sit in congregation before the sermon) and we sit near front since hubby plays piano and has to go back up on platform at closing.
        Maybe I should go up to balcony, but my knees don’t always want to climb stairs and I try to avoid elevator. I refuse to stay home since I need the uplifting of church to get through the week.

  • November 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Since I am the care giver for my grandchildren, as soon as they walk in off the bus I have them (and their friends) wash there hands with soap and then use sanitizer.

  • November 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I was always under the impression that, being on biologics, I could not have a flu shot. Plus, I am the one who always gets sick after the shot. I will double-check with the doctor now. I work in a public library, and people come in with all kinds of coughs, sniffles, etc. Thanks for the information!

  • November 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Great tips Kelly, thanks for some important reminders! I work in a large company, with lots of cubicles, and lots of sick people around! I put a note outside my cubicle asking for a “germ free zone” please, so in other words, if you are sick, please don’t come in here. Some may think it is offensive, but I don’t care, I have to do whatever I can to stay healthy. Most people know my situation and they understand.

  • November 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Great write up Kelly. This is the only time of year that I am thankful for having a fused left elbow, since it can’t get anywhere near my face I use it to open all public doors. Hurray for my body, woohoo!

  • November 11, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Those of us on biologics should certainly strongly consider getting an annual influenza vaccine. In fact, we should get the high potency version of the vaccine from our rheumatologist’s office, not the standard one available at retail pharmacies & grocery stores. It is highly unusual for anyone to get sick from the flu shot. If this has ever seemed to happen to you, most likely it was a coincidence and you were going to get sick anyway. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The flu vaccine is not a “live vaccine” so it is safe to get while on biologics. The shingles vaccine, on the other hand, is a live vaccine and cannot be taken while on them. Do talk to your rheumy whenever considering the pros and cons of immunizations.

    • November 12, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      Hi, Rebecca- just a suggestion that it could help to learn a little more about vaccines before discounting other people’s real experiences. http://douglassreport.com/2012/10/19/vaccines-can-actually-cause-the-flu/
      I’m sure you are innocently promoting a common myth, but many studies confirm that your assertion is flawed, and that often the victims of diseases tend to be those vaccinated against them. There are many theories on why this is, but the important thing to take away from this is that vaccine efficacy is not typically backed by scientific evidence as much as by industry-promoted claims, and many positive “scientific” studies are funded by big pharmaceutical companies. But don’t take my word for it… go research it for yourself in reputable medical journals and through pubmed or medline sites.

  • November 12, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Thanks Kelly for this post! One of the things I do that has really helped me is a humidifier that I can set to keep the humidity a constant level in my bedroom. Before buying the humidifier I was getting bronchitis every winter. I start running it as soon as it gets cool enough that I have to turn the heat on in my house.
    I’m also a stickler about washing my hands. I carry Wet Ones in my car and purse. After being in public I wipe my hands as soon as I get in the car, and then I wipe down my door handle, key, steering wheel and anything else I touched in the process of getting into the car.
    I’m also generally a bit low on Vit D, so I make sure I take extra Vit D during the winter.

  • November 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Don’t forget to increase Vitamin D3 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Our entire family rarely gets sick thanks to following many of your helpful suggestions, Kelly, and striving for good nutrition. This doesn’t come easily.
    Omega-3’s from animal sources have been clinically shown to be as effective a pain reliever as OTC meds, without the taxation on the liver, in about 30% arthritis sufferers since it is a natural anti-inflammatory, so I decided to try krill oil a few months ago, and it seems to be helping. I don’t know if there are interactions with any of the typical RA drugs since I can’t afford to go to a doctor anymore and have never taken any (and docs in the past have not been very helpful generally in a positive diagnosis) and so I, like many others, must routinely seek natural alternatives for my pain.
    In my quest for relief, I have gone to a gluten-free diet for one year (without an impressive pain result, but I feel better), cut back on sugar and coffee drastically, began some moderate, gentle exercise recently which seems to help with stiffness, limit computer time and sitting, take H.A./MSM/boswellia joint complex, and increased daily intake of these supplements: iodine, iron (which was I was previously diagnosed with low iron stores in the past), vitamin D3, vitamin C, resveratrol, green and black tea, raw honey for its healing properties & pre-biotics, and whole, plain Greek yogurt with live probiotics.
    It’s a lot, and a routine I have developed gradually over the years, but I have found only recently if I stick to this routine religiously, I personally experience noticeable relief with fewer flare-ups, and get sick rarely and for shorter bouts. I also avoid routine flu shots, etc. Thanks for letting me contribute to the discussion, Kelly.

  • November 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Thanks for all of the tips and tricks on staying well. I put a small sign outside of my office door to ‘please don’t share your cold and flu germs ☺’. I don’t think it has ever offended anyone, many of my co-workers know I have RA and are super considerate. I also don’t shake hands but generally can’t anyway due to pain-but it comes in handy!!
    I try to do most of my shopping online, that way I avoid a LOT of sick people.
    Stay healthy my friends…well at least as healthy as you can. God bless you all.

  • November 15, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I am very new to this crazy roller coaster. I was diagnosed Aug. 28. I still don’t know what to expect or ask or… Your tips are helpful. I work in childcare…germ paradise lol. I generally never get sick, but with this, I’m not sure what to expect or measures to take.

    • December 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      I work in the public school setting (aka germ pit) and I found a great product last year that I think helped tremendously. It is a spray called “halo”. Three sprays in your mouth, swish it around and swallow. The research on it indicates it kills a large percentage of airborne germs. I’m sold on it so far!

      • December 3, 2013 at 11:32 pm

        Sure wish I had that yesterday a.m. after Roo breathed on my face. Tonsils are so swollen it’s hard to swallow now. I’d successfully avoided so manyyyy cold/flu the past year or so.

  • November 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

    hello Kelly,

    thank you for the reminders. I went to one of your posts in this article and laughed. I have had the most unusual need to keep colorful sweet peppers in the house. There was a picture of them on your website.

    The need for fresh air is very important. On days when i can’t trot around the park(which is often) i still stay outside on a chair or bench, and breathe Deeply. Fresh air and free vitamin D. Even 15 -20 minutes makes a difference.

    I want to express doubt about antibacterial soaps.
    Thee soaps are stripping needed bacteria from the body as well as “bad’ bacteria. not only that, like overuse of antibiotic medicines this can cause the bacteria to develop resistance to the antibacterial soap.

    again thank you for the reminders. and now i must go buy some probiotics. i have been thinking about this. the information you provided confirms it is time for me to get going on this.

    with respect,

  • December 2, 2013 at 7:29 am

    EmergenC is the Best!
    Been using it for years..2 in the morning and 2 at night if getting sick

  • February 5, 2015 at 9:20 am

    I’m currently in the middle of a flare which I know for me usually causes an upset stomach and my temp to fluctuate between my norm and about a degree higher. But lately I’ve also been having headaches and stuffed/draining sinuses, along with other symptoms. It’s not the flu, thank goodness, but I’m wondering, what do colds, sinus infections, and the like look like when you are immunocompromised? The doctor that I saw at the MD360 said that I won’t likely have all of the “classic” symptoms of different diseases because those are usually caused by your immune system fighting. Does anyone know a book, study, website, etc. which can help me know when I’m just not feeling good versus when I’m actually sick?
    This is all so confusing.
    (Also, for anyone who doesn’t know yet, make sure you KNOW your normal values. For ex: my normal temp is between 97.6-97.8, so 98.6 is a slight fever)


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