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The real reasons your cold and flu symptoms linger

Don't put up with persistent coughs or sniffles. Here are ten possible reasons why – and what you can do to speed up the recovery process.

Cold & Flu Symptoms Linger
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Colds and flu are a fact of life. While there’s no foolproof way to avoid the dreaded lurgy, there are tricks to minimising the severity and duration of cold-weather bugs. According to Dr Alan Hampson from the Influenza Specialist Group, it’s a common misconception that a cold or flu isn’t serious; but a cold can see you in bed for up to a week and the flu can be fatal. His advice? “The better shape you’re in before an infection, the better you will recover.”

Granted, you can’t cure a cold or flu, but there are ways you can help prime your body to fight off winter germs. “Typically, symptoms of a cold should clear in seven days,” says Sydney naturopath Janet Marshall. “However, if you take good care of yourself, this may be shortened to three days.”

If symptoms seem to be hanging around for longer than average, we’ve researched ten possible reasons why – and what you can do to speed up the recovery process for a happier, healthier winter.

1: YOU HAVE A “SOLDIER ON” MENTALITY

How likely are you to take a day off when you have a sore throat? If the answer is “not very”, you’re not alone. A recent survey by America’s National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that 66% of people go about daily activities even after fl u symptoms set in. In doing so, you risk infecting others, and becoming more ill yourself. “Soldiering on has to be one of the worst messages, as your cold will spread and may turn into something more serious such as pneumonia,” advises Marshall.

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A cold shouldn’t be taken lightly. “A common practice is to pop a cold and fl u pill and keep going,” says Marshall. “But the truth is, when you have a cold, you’re sick, and you need to take care of yourself to allow your body to get better.” Instead of masking symptoms, give yourself permission to stay home and get better.

2: YOU DIDN’T RENEW YOUR FLU VACCINE

Cold won’t go away? You may have the fl u instead – despite getting a vaccine last winter. To reinforce your immune system, you’ll need to get the fl u vaccine at the start of every cold and fl u season, reports the Infl uenza Specialist Group. Unfortunately, your vaccine-induced immunity is relatively short-lived, so you'll need a booster yearly, advises Hampson.

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Think you’re a relatively robust person? You should still consider a vaccine, as even healthy people may take two weeks or more to fully recover from the fl u. What’s more, if you’re in contact with at-risk people, a vaccine will also protect their health – another reason to do the smart thing.

3: YOU MAY BE VITAMIN D DEFICIENT

Vitamin D, produced when sun rays hit your skin, may arm your immune system against the common cold. A preliminary study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that those with the lowest blood vitamin D levels reported having signifi cantly more cold and fl u cases recently, suggesting that vitamin D plays an important role in prevention of the ailments.

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“During winter, we typically get less sun exposure, which may contribute to a vitamin D defi ciency and explain why we get more colds and fl u in the colder months,” explains Hampson. Vitamin defi ciencies may cause viruses to be more easily caught and harder to shake as white blood cell counts are lower – and they're vital for fi ghting off viruses, says Marshall. To maintain healthy levels of vitamin D during winter in southern parts of Australia, aim for two to three hours of sunlight to your face, arms and hands over a week – while in northern parts, simply going about your day-to-day activities may be adequate, reports the Cancer Council.

4: YOU TAKE THE WRONG MEDICINES

“Symptoms of a cold or fl u are side effects of the body’s immune system fi ghting a germ,” says Dr Ronald McCoy from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. When you can’t stop coughing, suppressants can be appealing but may drag out the healing process. “Taking suppressants may stop the body from fi ghting an infection naturally and cause symptoms to linger as the body holds onto the virus longer,” says Marshall.

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Avoid nasal decongestants after two to three days of use, as they can be irritating and cause a buildup of medication tolerance. Instead, Marshall suggests using a steaming bowl of hot water and eucalyptus as an inhalant, up to three times a day, to naturally loosen congestion and speed up recovery.



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