Just as you would flush a toilet to rid it of waste, it also helps to flush out your body to cleanse it of potentially infectious organisms like cold viruses. Drink plenty of fluids, especially those that hydrate the body—that is, fluids that are free of caffeine, alcohol, excessive sugar or salt. That leaves water as the best thing to drink. Other useful beverages include decaffeinated coffee and tea, caffeine-free herb teas, seltzer, club soda, mineral water, and diluted fruit juices. The liquid helps to keep mucous membranes moist, enabling them to trap cold viruses and dispose of them before they can infect your cells. This is especially important during the winter months, when both indoor and outdoor air are much drier. One of the best weapons yet invented to ward off respiratory viruses may be the quart-sized sports bottle; fill it with water, carry it around with you, and sip from it all day long.

Close contact with potentially infected people is but one reason why colds spread so easily in winter or when you take a long plane trip. Another is extreme dehydration—especially the drying out of those nasal passages, your first line of defense against cold viruses. Homes, cars, and workplaces that are heated in winter typically have humidity levels of 20 to 30 percent. And airplane air at any time of year is comparable in dryness to the Sahara Desert. At home, you might try humidifying the air at night with a steam vaporizer (cold-mist humidifiers often foster the growth and dispersal of infectious organisms and allergens). Another strategy that some people find helpful is to program the thermostat so that the heat is off when you sleep and doesn’t come up until you get up and can start drinking again. But at work and during travel, your only option is to keep yourself moist from within by drinking lots and lots of plain fluids—eight ounces for every hour of travel is a good benchmark for maintaining decent hydration.

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