Why is there a cold and flu season and how to be prepared for it?

Why is there a cold and flu season and how to be prepared for it?
Sep 13th 2023 Vivian Russo

Image by prostooleh on Freepik

We hear these terms being thrown around, but what is the science behind them? As we understand the propensity of a certain time of year we’ll learn how to protect ourselves from it as much as possible.

The CDC say although influenza (flu) viruses are detected year-round, they circulate more often in the USA during the period of September through March. [1] This may be for a number of reasons:

  1. In the northern hemisphere this is when the seasons transition into winter. Flu viruses thrive on cold dry air. [2]
  2. The days being shorter and with less sunlight, people get less vitamin D and melatonin which help boost immune system. [3]
  3. People tend to spend more time indoors with the windows sealed, which increases the likelihood of breathing in the same air as other potentially infected people.

So as kids go back to school and adults to their regular routine, it’s time to be prepared just in case you get with a Cold or Flu. There are different categories of items to have at hand, according to Robert Weber, administrator for pharmacy services at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and assistant dean for medical center affairs at the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy: [4]

To be prepared, here is what to stock your medicine cabinets with:

  • Devices: whether medical like a thermometer or holistic like a humidifier, these gadgets have several advantages. By monitoring your temperature with a thermometer you’ll be able to tell whether you have the flu and it’s time to call your doctor, or it’s just a simple cold. Persistent fever is never a good sign. Humidifiers add moisture to the air and may aid in loosening up stuck sinuses. [5]
  • Pain relievers: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) options like Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), Naproxen (Aleve). Acetaminophen is the recommended choice for older adults, since there’s a danger of anticoagulant and gastrointestinal matters as we age. NSAIDs can generate a permanent kidney damage if used on a regular basis, according to Ashley Garling, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Pharmacy.
  • Stuffy Nose and Sore Throat relief:
    • Sore Throat soothers: including cough drops or lozenges, which are important to sooth a persistent cough and numb pain in the throat. The only concern would be to consume in moderation, especially diabetics, since many lozenges have sugar. We offer several sugar free alternatives here. A traditional cup of tea can also go a long way. See here for a selection.
    • Cough syrups: Pay attention to the different ingredients out there, which often times includes more than one kind. One to be especially vigilant for is Benadryl (diphenhydramine), which can present a risk of sedation and increasing propensity of falls for older adults. Mucinex (guaifenesin), is used for thinning mucus that causes phlegm-like coughs. For dry coughs the recommendation is an antihistamines like Zyrtec (cetirizine) or Claritin (loratadine).
    • Nasal Spray: particularly if it’s made out of saline it can help relieve nasal congestion caused by the common cold.

Along with a lot of fluids and rest, these should be a great start to staying healthy as the colder months begin to approach.

[1] Consulted on Aug 16th 2023 https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/index.html#:~:text=The%20exact%20timing%20and%20duration,last%20as%20late%20as%20May.

[2] Consulted on Aug 16th 2023 https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/influenza-general/study-flu-likes-weather-cold-and-dry-or-humid-and-rainy

[3] Consulted on Aug 13th 2023 https://www.uab.edu/shp/nutritiontrends/nutrition-know-how/consumer-concerns/fend-cold-flu-with-vitamin-d#:~:text=Taking%20vitamin%20D%20is%20not,a%20role%20in%20boosting%20immunity.

[4] Consulted on Aug 13th 2023 https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2021/cold-and-flu-medicine.html

[5] Consulted on Aug 13th 2023 https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/expert-answers/cool-mist-humidifiers/faq-20058199#:~:text=Humidifiers%20add%20moisture%20to%20the,don't%20help%20cold%20symptoms