As Hong Kong's flu seasons looms... 10 tips to avoid catching a cold

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 September, 2014, 10:59am

Adults average about two to four colds a year, according to the British health information site NHS Choices. Catching a cold is a dismal feeling; all that snot makes you feel gross. If you let the infection get out of hand, leper-like, you may stay at home, unable to do much except sniffle and sneeze.

The trick is to stop that cold in its tracks by revving up your immune system and keeping the virus out of your sinuses. With the Hong Kong flu season looming, here are 10 tips on how to do just that.

Choose chilli Bite a hot pepper and you'll be able to vouch for the fact that it clears your sinuses fast. Thank capsaicin, the chemical that gives chillies their zing, which works as a decongestant.

Another of the pepper's perks is that it can help you sweat out a fever by raising your body temperature. Better yet, chilli peppers carry up to four times as much vitamin C as an orange. And vitamin C is said to shorten the duration of colds. So grab a bottle of Tabasco sauce, or have a curry or some guacamole laced with garlic.

Chop it up Garlic keeps more than vampires away. In 1858, French scientist Louis Pasteur found that bacteria died when exposed to garlic. Modern research has shown that garlic's antibacterial effect comes from allicin, a compound found in the pungent bulb.

If you would rather eat fresh, raw, grated garlic than pop garlic pills, the easiest way is to make guacamole or hummus. You can also add minced garlic to pasta. And consider cooking with other variants containing the same antibacterial agent. The list includes onions, shallots and chives.

Exercise lightly Don't get too hung up on food, there are all kinds of other cold-busting strategies, like exercise. Take a brisk walk or jog, ensuring you are warm enough, advises fitness trainer Ali Cavill. Lifting light weights and doing strength conditioning workouts is also OK, he says.

Light exercise can lessen the severity and duration of a cold by kick-starting your immune system, she says, adding that it improves your mood and ability to fight off fatigue and the "blues" associated with colds.

Don't go too overboard with the honey, as too much sugar can make your cold last longer
Alison Mitchell, naturopath

Hit the hay Early nights are imperative, in order to get as much sleep as possible, Cavill says.

If you get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, you triple your risk of developing a cold compared with someone who sleeps eight or more hours, according to JAMA Internal Medicine. When deprived of sleep, your body may overproduce cytokines: the proteins that cause cold symptoms when you are sick. When you sleep soundly, your immune function is boosted.

Inhale natural oil Increase your chances of getting to sleep by taking a steaming hot scented bath. Add a drop or two of eucalyptus oil, Cavill advises.

Other eucalyptus oil options include inhaling it from a handkerchief, gargling it diluted in half a glass of warm water, and rubbing it onto your chest. The fragrant Australian gum tree extract is renowned for its lung-cleansing benefits.

Get gargling Naturopath Alison Mitchell endorses an old-school treatment that takes more discipline than using eucalyptus: warm saltwater gargles.

"My mum always made me do this when I started feeling sick, and it really did help," Mitchell says, adding that a saline solution has an antimicrobial action and warm water is soothing.

Fill a 250ml glass with recently boiled water that should be more than lukewarm and stir in one to two teaspoons of salt. Take a mouthful, gargle for 10 seconds, spit and repeat until empty, every one to two hours to sustain the benefit.

Try flower power Part of the daisy family, echinacea is one of the most popular treatments for colds and influenza. According to Mitchell, echinacea boosts the immune system, increasing your white blood cell count.

Some key echinacea chemicals - the alkylamides - occur only in the roots, so use quality preparations made from the root, Mitchell says.

Commercial echinacea products include tea, juice and tablets. The plant's therapeutic appeal is enhanced by its beauty - showy heads of purple flowers.

Sip spicy tea Mitchell also recommends an impromptu blend of "tea with a kick" from four ingredients: lemon, garlic, ginger and black pepper. 

Grate some fresh garlic and ginger into a mug. Add some cracked black pepper and two slices of lemon, cover with boiled water and steep for a few minutes, adding honey to sweeten if desired.

"This is a great tea for clearing mucous and soothing sore throats, but don't go too overboard with the honey, as consuming too much sugar can make your cold last longer," she says.

Embrace bitterness At the opposite end from honey is andrographis, technically known as Andrographis paniculata. The ayurvedic herb nicknamed "the king of bitters", Mitchell notes, can shorten the duration of the common cold.

The herb - which can be found in Hong Kong, Thailand, Brunei, and Singapore - is used across China and India. It supposedly stopped the 1919 flu epidemic in India.

Think zinc The final powerful anti-cold tool is zinc. This essential mineral boosts the immune system and may curb the intensity and duration of cold symptoms. The reason: zinc fuels the production of antibacterial white blood cells and tunes up the thymus gland, which plays a big part in regulating the immune system.

If you would rather skip pills, you can find zinc in a wealth of foods. Top sources include nuts, legumes, grains, oysters, red meat and poultry.


Secret life of the common cold

If you recoil when someone sneezes, your response is justified. When a sick person coughs, sneezes or talks, they discharge virus-carrying droplets into the air. The respiratory droplets can travel up to two metres to another person, moving at 4.5 metres per second. So you should stay well back from infected people and get out of the way when they tense up before a sneeze.

At the same time, be wary of dirty keyboards. You are more likely to be infected by a keypad than a used tissue. The reason: moisture droplets hosting cold-causing viruses are dispersed and neutralised on tissues, fabrics and other soft materials but remain whole on hard surfaces. Cold viruses can live on such surfaces for up to 18 hours.

In a 2007 study, when healthy people touched smooth, hard objects such as telephones, light switches and doorknobs that were contaminated, 60 per cent picked up the germs after an hour.

Keep washing your hands, remembering that nine out of 10 people say that they wash their hands regularly, but only seven actually do. Work up a lather for up to 20 seconds and rub hard between fingers and under nails and jewellery to purge the invaders. Everyday soap will do - oddly the antibacterial kind does nothing to kill the common cold.

If you are wondering why nobody has found a cure for the irritating sickness yet, the explanation lies in the sheer number of virus strains that can cause cold symptoms. The rhinovirus alone, which is responsible for about half of common colds, travels under 100 different identities. So you could catch a different rhinovirus each year and fail to experience all the known kinds in a lifetime.