The Goods

Keeping the sniffles at bay: Your guide to staying flu free this winter

Dr. Fariha Khan’s advice on warding off the flu

Dr. Fariha Khan’s advice on warding off the flu

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Flu season is around the corner! And as the weather gets colder, you may be looking for a way to stay flu free. Besides just being a nuisance, the flu is responsible for over 3000 deaths in this country each year according to Health Canada. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the common cold and the flu, so family physician Dr. Fariha Khan stopped by The Goods to answer all our questions and explain the signs and symptoms of these common illnesses. She also shared her tips on how to fight off the flu this winter and how to get some homemade relief when you're down and out.

What's the difference between a cold and a flu?

Both are viruses, but the cold is milder and typically doesn't involve a fever. The flu usually brings along muscle aches and pains along with a fever and impacts a person's ability to function function. The symptoms for both may be similar but the common cold is generally characterized by a runny nose, sneezing, cough, and watery eyes.

So many people I know have received a flu shot and then get ill immediately after. Why is this happening?

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There are two things at play here: as your body responds to the vaccine, your immune system gets revved up and starts fighting back. This is the same as with babies who get a fever after a vaccine. This reaction is simply in response to the vaccine, but it's very unlikely that you got the flu from the vaccine. Instead, you perhaps caught the flu a few days before you got the vaccine, and now you are exhibiting symptoms, or you caught a different virus all together, because the vaccine only protects you from a specific strain.

What is your number one tip for keeping the flu at bay?

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Germs can last up to 24 hours on hard surfaces like keyboards, door handles, and countertops so hand washing is the number one way to keep flu at bay! An easy way to make sure you're thoroughly washing is your hands is to wash them for the same length of time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song. Hand sanitizing gel is great, but is a last resort if you can't find running water and real soap.

Is it true that going outside into the cold with wet hair is going to give me the flu?

It won't give you the flu – you can only get it through transmission of the virus itself. Someone has to sneeze or cough on you or you touch something that's been contaminated with the virus. But by wearing a hat the body won't have to focus on temperature regulation so it can better focus on your immune system.

What's something we can do to resolve nasal congestion?

There are different types of saline rinses and a humidifier may help. Some people, especially children, may find themselves very congested, and so you may also find it best to hold back on dairy products when you're feeling ill.

Some saline rinses can help to rinse out some of the thicker mucus that makes it hard to breathe, while replenishing some of the moisture you need. Don't use it if you're 100% congested because you need to be able to breathe a little bit to make it work.

When I get sick, my throat gets really sore and I can barely swallow. How can I ease the pain at home?  

Another thing that can help ease flu symptoms is to gargle with 1/2 tsp salt diluted in warm water. This helps to reduce swelling in your throat and ease pain. It provides temporary relief and you can do it a few times a day.