With Dr. Rankin
Old man winter is not going down without a fight. The good news is we are getting closer to the end of “sick season” but it seems like people are still getting sick all the time. Especially you athletic types out there. I know we have a tendency to run our bodies down which makes us more susceptible. I recently checked in with Dr. Josh Rankin in search of tips for steering clear of getting sick on this last stretch of winter.
OCA: What are the differences between cold and flu?
JR: The flu is a distinct illness that is caused by one of several strains of influenza virus. It is characterized by the rapid development of cough, runny nose, sore throat, usually significant fever, and generalized body aches. It can be tested for with a nasal swab, although sometimes this test is not 100% reliable. A cold, or what we refer to as an upper respiratory infection (URI), is caused by one of several other viruses, notably rhinoviruses, that causes similar symptoms to the flu but has a more gradual onset. However, the degree to which you feel ill is generally not as severe as the flu and generally the fever, if any, is low-grade.
OCA: What are the most common ways/causes a person gets sick?
JR: Most commonly, cold and flu viruses are spread by respiratory droplets from person to person. But one can also catch these viruses from contaminated surfaces that sick patients have been around.
OCA: Does stress increase your chances of getting sick?
JR: High stress can increase the amount of cortisol (a hormone produced by the adrenal glands) that circulates throughout your body. High levels of cortisol are thought to play a part in dampening the immune response to certain infections. So, theoretically, the more stressed you are, the more susceptible you are to illnesses. This generalization is not always the case, however, as some people seem to thrive in high stress environments.
OCA: Does exercise increase or decrease your chances of getting sick?
JR: Routine exercise seems to decrease your chances of getting ill. Exercise tends to help people relieve stress, and as I alluded to before, less stress means a healthier immune system.
OCA: What are your top 5 tips for preventing cold & flu?
JR: Tip #1 for this is GET YOUR FLU VACCINE EVERY YEAR. Yes, this year the flu vaccines weren’t as effective, but 23% effectiveness is better than 0%. So, unless you have a contraindication to getting a flu vaccine, I & most other physicians still recommend it. Tip #2 is simply to wash your hands. Hand sanitizer is better than nothing, but good ‘ole soap and water is best as certain infectious organisms have a protective coat around them that yields sanitizers less useful. Tip #3 is to ensure you take in your recommended amount of Vitamin C & D. I usually tell my patients to take an additional supplement of 1000 mg of Vitamin C daily during cold & flu season, and as I discussed in a previous article, I believe that Vitamin D contributes to feelings of generalized wellbeing. Tip #4 would be to make sure you’re setting time aside for rest/recovery and getting the appropriate amount of sleep. Tip #5 (especially for athletes) is to stay hydrated. Your body needs adequate water to fight off infections.
OCA: Do you have any suggestions for shortening the duration of cold & flu?
JR: Well as far as the flu is concerned (once it’s definitively diagnosed), there are certain antiviral medications that can be prescribed that are intended to shorten the duration of symptoms (although I personally had a lingering cough for upwards of a month when I had the flu last year). It gets a bit trickier when it comes to the common cold though as there are no antivirals for these viruses, and antibiotics are useless unless a secondary infection occurs. However, I usually tell cold sufferers to increase their supplemental Vitamin C intake to upwards of 3000mg daily as I believe this strengthens the immune response.
OCA: What can we do in general to keep our immune system healthy?
JR: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Get plenty of sleep. Wash your hands. Keep up with your vaccinations. Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid excess alcohol.
To see my previous post with Dr. Rankin click here.
Looking for a doctor who understands the athletes’ lifestyle? Check him out, click here.
Dr. Joshua Rankin
FirstCare Family Doctors – Tontitown, a MANA Clinic
171 N. Maestri Rd.
Springdale, AR 72762