We all want to stay germ-free and feel well during the winter months, but sometimes it can feel like you’re waiting for the inevitable cold to appear. Have you ever wondered why some people never get ill, and some are prone to catching winter bugs?
“According to Ayurveda, some people can be prone to certain illnesses because they have a weak digestive fire.”
De Deepa Apté, Indian medical doctor and Ayurveda practitioner says “According to Ayurveda, some people can be prone to certain illnesses because they have a weak digestive fire, which in turn results in toxins in the body weakening the immune system and leading to recurrent illnesses.”
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common winter illnesses, what symptoms we should be looking out for, and any natural DIY remedies we can use to avoid that trip to the GP …
General Immune function
One of the simplest ways to boost immune function is to get more sleep – take a day off to call your own, book a holiday, walk out in the countryside breathing in the fresh air – and see how this alone will lift your spirits.
Laugh a lot; watch films that make you laugh, and spend time with friends that make you giggle. Laughter and having some fun strengthen the immune system.
Stress alone can suppress the immune function by up to 60%, therefore keep your stress levels in check.
Think positively – people who stay cheerful and look in the bright side have stronger immune systems.
I am in contact with lots of people all day, so at this time of year, I use organic defence in my room diffuser. With a zesty aroma, this natural blend protects against most common bacteria and viruses and helps to support the whole family's immune system.
Colds and Flu
Flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but different viruses cause them. Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more common and intense.
Colds are usually milder than flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalisations.
The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness).
Combat stuffiness by propping yourself up with pillows when you are in bed, so your chest has a better chance of clearing.
Also, try and do some steam inhalation by taking long deep breaths in a hot shower, or add eucalyptus to your bath.
Stay hydrated and sip warm liquids which are soothing. Drink plenty of water to prevent mucus secretions from becoming too thick and making you congested. Avoid sugary drinks, caffeine and alcohol, - lemon and a dash of honey, or any other warn or herbal tea, will do the trick.
Vitamin C is strongly anti-viral, and research has shown that it can shorten the severity and duration of most colds and flu if taken in sufficient amounts. During the winter take 1 gram daily, but if you feel a cold coming on, increase your intake to 1 gram, 3 times a day until the cold has gone.
Your body needs to heal, so rest to help strengthen your immune system to fight off the virus. Rest helps to boost your immunity as it allows your body to allocate resources to supporting immunity.
A chest infection is one that affects just the lungs or airways, so a lung infection is a chest infection and also a lower respiratory tract infection. The main types of chest infection are bronchitis and pneumonia.
They’re more common in autumn and winter, particularly after a cold or flu, and while most are mild and clear up by themselves, they could last from a few days up to three weeks.
The main symptoms of chest infections are a persistent cough, coughing up yellow or green mucus, breathlessness or wheezing, and a high temperature (above 38°C).
Chest infections can be serious if you are elderly, pregnant or have a compromised immune system.
Try a menthol cough confectionery, such as Jakemans, which can help soothe the discomfort of a sore throat. Each Jakemans sweet is bursting with menthol, which releases vapours to help keep airways clear.
Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water. This will also help to clear blocked airways and relieve the feeling of congestion. If you’re looking to increase the effect, try adding menthol or eucalyptus essential oils to the water.
Consume fruit and vegetables that contain vitamin C. This has been proven to boost your immune system and speed up recovery, coughs, and sore throats, or take a supplement (see colds and flu above).
Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. People with asthma should be especially careful in winter.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning.
Stay indoors on very cold, windy days. If you do go out, wear a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth.
It’s incredible how many people suffer from breathing problems simply because they are not using their lungs properly. Every 20 minutes or so, remember to take a slow deep breath.
Shallow breathing is associated with stress. Learn relaxation techniques, and take up things like yoga or T’ai Chi, which teach breathing methods that help to strengthen the lungs and diaphragm, or walking outdoors to help relieve stress.
Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful and stiff in winter, though it's not clear why this is the case. There's no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage.
Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate or severe. They may stay about the same for years but may progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs.
Many people get a little depressed during the winter months, and this can make them perceive pain more acutely. Everything feels worse, including medical conditions. Daily exercise can boost a person's mental and physical state. Swimming is ideal as it's easy on the joints.
Hot and cold compresses applied alternatively will help to reduce swelling and pain. Do this for around 20 minutes.
Joint cartilage needs plenty of fluid, so aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water daily.
Wearing magnets has given relief to many people. Magnets placed on the painful area will increase blood flow, bringing more oxygen to an area of pain, and reducing swelling and inflammation.
Most of us recognise that cold sores are a sign that we're run down or under stress. While there's no cure for cold sores, you can reduce the chances of getting one by looking after yourself through winter.
Cold sores — also called fever blisters — are a common viral infection. They are tiny, fluid-filled blisters on and around your lips. These blisters are often grouped together in patches. After the blisters break, a crust forms over the resulting sore. Cold sores usually heal in two to four weeks without leaving a scar.
Every day, do things that make you feel less stressed, such as having a hot bath, going for a walk in the park, or watching one of your favourite films.
Some people notice when they overeat dairy products from cows, they are prone to attack. If you find this is the case for you, then reduce or cut out dairy produce.
If you have a cold sore around your mouth or feel that one might be coming, put 1 drop of geranium essential oil on a cotton swab and apply it directly onto the sore, repeating several times a day.
Calendula tincture can also be dabbed directly onto the sores.
Cheers to staying healthy this winter