As we return to some of the activities we enjoyed pre-COVID, maintaining a robust immune system remains top of mind amongst most Americans. A survey conducted by the International Food Information Council found that of those who cited immune health as a top priority, nearly half (49%) provided that seeking cold and flu prevention products became more important as a result of the pandemic. Whether you are traveling, gearing up for back-to-school, or returning to the office, defending yourself against the pesky germs that come with the territory is essential. Luckily, there is an entire ecosystem of cold & flu products that can help prevent, protect against, and treat illnesses.
Adults catch about two to three colds per year on average, and the Center for Disease Control estimates that between 9 million and 41 million people in the U.S get the flu each year. So, it’s inevitable that we’ll be tasked with fighting off a cold or bug at some point. Keep reading for information about the various products you can integrate into your cold and flu-fighting regimen.
Aside from living a relatively healthy lifestyle (washing your hands, regular movement, getting enough sleep, etc.), preventative cold and flu products are a great way to support your immune system function on a regular basis. The most common of which are dietary supplements that can come in a variety of forms: pills, gummies, tablets, powders, sprays, and more. Regardless of the delivery system, dietary supplements that are designed to strengthen your immune system contain similar herbal extracts, antioxidants, electrolytes, and vitamins that all work to prevent the common cold and flu while improving immune function.
Immune-boosting products can be used year-round to give your body the extra support it needs. You can obtain essential nutrients through a well-balanced diet consisting of a variety of healthy foods, but if your diet is lacking in important micronutrients or if you are deficient in certain vitamins, supplements can help to fill in the gaps. It is recommended to take your supplements with food for maximum absorption and to avoid an upset stomach.
Below we’ve outlined three of the most common immune-boosting vitamins and how they work to prevent colds and cases of flu, but remember it’s important to take these supplements on top of eating a healthy diet rather than as a dietary replacement.
We know Vitamin D, first and foremost, as the supplement that supports strong bones. But did you know that when you take Vitamin D, you are boosting the production of immune cells? Various National Institute of Health (NIH) studies show that most people in the United States consume less than the recommended amount of Vitamin D. This is especially true during the winter months when there’s less sunshine. With all these challenges in mind, how can we ensure we get enough Vitamin D from season to season?
Vitamin D is found in seafood such as salmon, swordfish, tuna, and sardines. If you aren’t getting enough Vitamin D through your diet, a great solution is to take Vitamin D supplements. There are two main types of Vitamin D supplements: Vitamin D2 (present in plants and yeast) and Vitamin D3 (present in animal sources). Both provide immune support to the body by regulating the activity of immune cells. Vitamin D can be found in liquid formulas, powders, pills, sprays, and more.
Feeling consistently run-down? A dose of vitamin C might be just what you need!
Vitamin C helps prevent colds and the flu by encouraging white blood cells to protect against infection, helping these cells function more effectively, and protecting them from damage. Vitamin C can be consumed naturally through citrus fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and more. Vitamin C can also be supplemented in the form of powders, tablets, gummies, and more. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that adult men take 90 mg of Vitamin C a day and that adult females take 75 mg of vitamin C a day.
Zinc plays a critical role in supporting immunity. A study by the NIH found that even mildly zinc-deficient individuals had weakened immune systems. The body needs zinc for the immune system to effectively fight off invading bacteria and viruses and ensure that your immune response does not spiral out of control.
Zinc is found in many common foods, including avocados, blackberries, pomegranate, raspberries, guavas, and more. On top of including these foods in your diet, Zinc can be found in almost all multi-vitamins, as their own supplement, and in the form of lozenges.
Now that we’ve covered commonly used products and specific vitamins that can help boost your immune system, let’s dive into how we can provide our bodies with extra protection against cold and flu viruses with products that prevent germs from entering your body:
- Hand Sanitizers: Used to inactivate any virus that exists on the skin. It is important to note that your hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol to kill all harmful germs!
- Disinfectant Wipes: Disposable wipes are used to kill germs either on the body or on hard surfaces such as door handles, remotes, desks, and more. Be sure to read the labeling on your wipes to certify that you are using them on the correct surfaces.
- Masks: Used to protect and cover the nose and mouth by keeping airborne viruses from entering your airways. If you are feeling lousy, it is best practice to wear a mask to prevent your illness from spreading to others.
- Mouth Sprays or Rinses: Use an oral germ defense solution to provide a barrier against germs. Sprays and rinses are becoming much more available in convenient travel sizes that you can take with you on the go.
Cold and flu protective products are best used before entering crowded spaces such as theme parks, concerts, airplanes, offices, fairs, and more. Germ busting cleaners are best used for cleansing the skin and other external surfaces, while mouth sprays and face masks can be used for protection against airborne germs.
When you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of a cold or the flu, unfortunately, you’re passed the point where immune-boosting and germ protection products will be of use. It’s time to turn to over-the-counter medications that can help treat symptoms, ease discomfort, and shorten the length and severity of your illness. A variety of products on the market can provide symptom relief and guide you towards feeling good as new!
When you come down with aches and chills, analgesics, also known as painkillers, can be used to ease your symptoms. The most common analgesics for reducing fever and pain contain either acetaminophen or naproxen (acetaminophen being the preferred method for reducing fever). Acetaminophen is available in capsules, solutions, tablets, powders, liquids, and more, while naproxen is available in oral immediate-release tablets, oral delayed-release tablets, oral suspensions, and more. Both drugs can be prescribed or purchased over the counter. It is important to follow medication package instructions, and ensure you take the correct dose to avoid liver damage.
If your cold has you constantly reaching for the tissues, antihistamines are the solution for you. Antihistamines help with a large variety of problems, such as allergies, anxiety, and colds. You can take antihistamines in the form of pills, eye drops, or nose sprays. Nasal sprays help clear nasal passages and postnasal drip by blocking the action of histamine, which is responsible for congestion, sneezing, and runny and itchy noses. Although antihistamines can be purchased over the counter or prescribed for minor ailments, it is usually safe to stick with over-the-counter options.
Sinus congestion resulting from a runny nose tends to be one of the first signs of a cold, and for many, this is the most bothersome symptom. When a virus attacks the body, and the virus meets your sinuses, the response leads to inflammation in the nose that causes nasal congestion and mucus production. To combat this symptom, try taking cold congestion medicine, which exists to narrow blood vessels and help reduce inflammation that can cause sinus congestion. These over-the-counter medicines exist in liquids, tablets, and nasal sprays to purchase, depending on which you prefer.
Alongside a runny nose, you may come down with a cough caused by inflammation from a cold or flu virus. Fortunately, a wide variety of cough medicine products exist that work to provide relief.
Cough drops work by releasing medicine into your mouth that suppresses the cough while increasing saliva (and results in a cooling feeling in your mouth that can ease pain associated). In addition to cough drops and syrup, over-the-counter cough medications come in two forms: antitussives (cough suppressants) and expectorants (mucus thinner). When used together, antitussives and expectorants can relieve even the worst of coughs.
When a virus enters your throat, it can cause an infection like pharyngitis, which makes your pharynx (aka the tube in the back of your throat) swollen, red, and irritated. Although a sore throat usually will resolve on its own over time, there are a few different ways to relieve your symptoms for the time being.
One of the most common home remedies for a sore throat is honey, which can be added into herbal teas such as chamomile or peppermint or taken on its own. Honey can also help to soothe a nighttime cough when taken before bed and speed up the process of feeling better. Other self-medication methods include gargling warm salt water, gargling baking soda, and drinking diluted apple cider vinegar. If your sore throat becomes unbearable, over-the-counter products such as pain relievers, numbing medications, and demulcents (lozenges and cough drops) exist to help you get through the worst.
Whether you’re looking for an extra immune system boost, protection from germs, or are tasked with battling a cold or flu, a wide variety of cold and flu products are available. From supplements and cough drops to hand sanitizers and throat sprays, this ecosystem of products can guide you through all stages of your illness. These products can be found in grocery stores, at your local pharmacy, and online. Most products can be found in these stores’ cough/cold or immunity aisles, over the counter, or through a quick search on the web. If you aren’t sure which product makes the most sense for you, talk to your doctor.