Weathering A Cold
23 January 2020 MedicAlert

Christmas may be a distant memory, but winter is only just really kicking in, bring colds and bugs to join the party. Knowing how best to look after yourself - and protect those around you - can be tricky whilst managing all your other obligations and priorities. Living with a health condition can make this even more difficult, yet all the more pressing.

Keeping others safe

According to the Office for National Statistics, 141m working days were lost in 2018, with minor illnesses including colds stated as the most common reason for absence1. Whilst this sounds like a huge number, it has actually dramatically dropped since the 2008 recession, most likely due to increased worries about job security. Whilst no one wants to get behind, turning up when you’re ill shouldn’t necessarily be something to be praised for. Managers should be able to trust their employees to know when they need time to recover.

It can sometimes be hard to judge whether staying in bed or dragging yourself to your workplace is the better option when you’re ill - where do you draw the line, at a runny nose and a few sneezes, or when you have a fever and the shivers? In short, it may depend on your workplace and who you come into contact with.

Woman blowing her nose

If you are working with anyone with a higher risk, such as young children, in healthcare or you have a colleague with a reduced immune system, you are likely to be leaving a trail of germs that can threaten their health. Particular symptoms are a big no-no for everyone; if you’ve experienced vomiting or diarrhoea in that 48 hours, you’re likely to still be contagious and no one will thank you for sharing those particular gifts.

The common cold can actually remain contagious for up to 2 weeks after symptoms appear, Whilst it is obviously not realistic to take a fortnight off work every time you have a sniffle, be sensible - wash your hands often and thoroughly, cover your mouth when you cough, throw tissues straight into a bin and wash cups thoroughly after use.

Looking after yourself

If you have underlying health conditions, the cold season can be even trickier to navigate. You may find that symptoms are worse, last longer and exacerbate your existing conditions too.

It’s a common misconception that colds are only spread by airborne particles. In fact, cold viruses can also contaminate objects and surfaces in the environment of a sufferer. Experiments have demonstrated that a cold virus readily transfers from the skin and hands of a cold sufferer to the hands and fingers of another person during periods of brief contact2. During cold season, it may be wise to be less tactile with others, especially if you’re not sure of their state of health!

Equally, sufferers can leave surfaces contaminated long after they have left the area. To keep yourself safe, consider wiping door handles, chairs, desks or kitchen worktops with warm soapy water, and carry hand-sanitiser gel with you to use before you eat.

Person cleaning kitchen counter

Those with health conditions, such as diabetes, neurological disorders or heart, lung or kidney conditions, may find that any medications they regularly take can cause over-the-counter cold remedies to be dangerous. It is important to always consult your doctor before taking any drugs if you are already on medication or believe that it may affect your condition in any manner.

Whilst it may be tempting to isolate yourself, unless your immune system is extremely weakened, this isn’t necessary - you cannot completely eliminate the risk of catching a common cold and the impact of becoming insular on mental health may be greater than weathering a bug. Instead, work on supporting your immune system - get enough sleep, exercise regularly, manage stress and include lots of vegetables in your daily diet. When you can, get outside, get some sun and keep socialising!

Lastly, don’t forget that winter’s weather conditions can make you more vulnerable or affect underlying conditions in other ways. For example, very cold spells means your heart has to work harder to keep yourself warm, causing blood vessels to constrict3. It’s important to wear your MedicAlert every day – if you don’t already have medical ID jewellery, now is the time! – to ensure those around you can help you, if you encounter any difficulties!

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1 The Guardian
2 Common Cold Org
3 British Heart Foundation

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