Cough & cold season – what you can do to protect yourself?

Cough and cold season in the UK usually lasts from October through to May, peaking in January or February. For most, the illness is uncomfortable but mild though it can cause more serious problems for individuals with underlying conditions.

There is no cure for the common cold, however there are several ways you can protect yourself from becoming infected.


What is a common cold/cough?

Cold and cough illnesses are caused by more than 200 different types of virus which infect the upper respiratory tract. These are generally categorised within 4 groups: human rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, parainfluenza viruses and adenoviruses.


How does it spread from person to person?

Whilst most coughs and colds are relatively mild illnesses, they are incredibly contagious. Viruses are spread by inhaling or ingesting droplets suspended in the air from coughing and sneezing, or from touching a contaminated surface such as a door handle or shopping trolley.

Coughs and colds remain contagious from 1 -2 days before symptoms show and until the symptoms have completely stopped.

Due to the ease in which they spread, it’s common for everyone in a household to catch a cold if one of the occupants starts showing symptoms.


How can you protect yourself from catching a cold or cough?

Keeping hands clean

Regular hand-washing is one of the most effective ways of reducing the spread of any virus. It is particularly important if you have been in a public space such a supermarket, or if you been in close contact with other individuals such as at a business meeting or if your children have been at a play-date.

Alcohol based hand sanitisers are a viable alternative if you are unable to readily reach a wash basin and soap.


Keep surfaces clean in the home & workplace

Your home and your workplace are probably where you spend most of your time, so it’s important you keep surfaces clean, especially in the kitchen area & bathroom.

It’s best to use a disinfectant, and if you are environmentally conscious, there are several eco brands currently on the market.

Don’t forget to clean keyboards & mice, especially if more than one person uses the same workstation as these can be a haven for germs.


Stop touching your face

It is common for us to touch our faces as a matter of impulse. Unfortunately, this greatly increases the risk of transferring microorganisms from our hands to our mouths, so it’s best avoided.


Strengthen your immunity

Aside from avoiding contact with the virus, your other primary strategy should focus on improving your immune system. Not only will it make you less susceptible to coughs and colds, but it will make you healthier in general.


Improve immunity by taking regular exercise

Regular exercise is widely regarded as one of the key activities which can help to keep your immune system fighting fit. Individuals who keep up with a frequent work-out routine tend to have lower blood pressure, better control over body weight and improved cardiovascular health.

Keeping the body in good condition reduces the risk of diseases which can put an unwanted strain on the overall immune system. 


Diet and immunity

A critical part of maintaining a healthy immune system is paying close attention to what you eat. Having a balanced diet is known for its many virtues, however there are some food groups which are especially beneficial to immunity:


Citrus fruits

Lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit are amongst the most popular citrus fruit you can readily find in the supermarket. Rich in vitamin C which is thought to improve production of white blood cells, these zingy naturals need to be consumed daily to get their full benefit, as the body does not store vitamin C.



The digestive system plays a surprisingly important role in fighting disease. The gut is best kept happy when it receives plenty of “live & active cultures” otherwise known as good bacteria. Yoghurt also contain vitamin D which helps to regulate the overall immune system.



It may surprise you that eating shellfish can give your body’s defence system a big boost. This is down to the high zinc content of certain crustaceans such as crab, mussels, lobsters & crevettes.

Don’t overdo it though, as an overdose on zinc will damage your immunity. Make sure any shellfish you eat are as fresh as possible to minimise the risk of food poisoning.


Green tea

Celebrated in many cultures throughout the world, green tea is packed full of healthy compounds which are believed to help support the immune system.

Antioxidants such as flavonoids and epigallocatechin gallate work towards fighting off damaging free-radicals, whilst amino acid L-theanine is thought to contribute to germ combating aggregates in your T-cells.


Health supplements

Health supplements can’t replace a healthy diet, however they can help to introduce healthy levels of much needed vitamins and minerals into the body, which can provide support for the immune system. Supplements containing glucose can also be effective for individuals who have already caught a cold and are feeling low on energy.



Unfortunately, colds and coughs are with us for the long run, though by making some changes to our daily habits we can drastically reduce the chances of catching one. Hygiene, diet and exercise all play an important role in keeping you healthy and illness free – it really does pay off to make sure all three are being taken care of.