Although people hope they won't get a cold or flu during the winter season, the odds are that they will catch some type of illness during these months. However, you can take some action in advance to minimize the likelihood of getting ill, and if you do, you can have some items on hand to make yourself and your family more comfortable for the duration of your illness.

Flu Shots

One of the best ways to protect your health during the winter months is to get your annual flu shot. These immunizations help your body resist the most common flu viruses that spread through the population in most years. Although flu shots do not protect you from every flu virus, nor from other types of viral infections, you can reduce your risk of illness by getting the shot. Another type of flu vaccine uses a nasal spray. Ask your doctor which type is best for you and your family.

Hand Sanitizer

When winter arrives, it's a good time to buy plenty of hand sanitizer and teach children how to use it. Keep a large bottle in the kitchen or family room and be a good example by using it frequently during the day. Small bottles can be put into backpacks to help kids avoid catching colds at school and during after-school activities.

Humidifier

Even if you are very careful, you can find yourself or a family member with a serious respiratory infection, with head congestion and chronic coughing. A humidifier can help to relieve these symptoms. If you run the humidifier throughout the night, the individual can sleep more soundly, allowing a faster recovery. Humidifiers must be kept scrupulously clean to prevent mold and bacteria from growing in internal parts. After use, clean the unit carefully before storing it away.

Foods to Keep on Hand

Your grandmother knew the value of hot, homemade soup to provide nourishment when family members were sick. Scientists now know that hot soup contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help to restore health. The hot steam from soup also helps to relieve sinus congestion. If you're not up to cooking, make sure you have a variety of soups in the cabinet or pantry to help sick family members feel better. Stock jello, ginger ale and juice for upset stomachs.

Cold and Flu Medications

When the cold winds begin to blow, it's time to stock up your medicine cabinet with medications that will help to relieve stuffiness, coughs, body aches and sore throats. If you keep a few over-the-counter medications on hand, you can avoid that last-minute trip to the pharmacy when you're feeling ill.

· Pain reliever - Aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen or naproxen will help to relieve head and body aches. Keep in mind that aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 19. Aspirin is associated with Reyes Syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal condition.

· Decongestant - Sudafed or similar decongestants can be used to relieve sinus congestion that occurs with colds.

· Cough medicine - Robitussin or other brands of cough medicine can help to quiet coughs during the night so sick individuals can rest properly. Follow your pediatrician's recommendations for children under the age of 12.

· Throat lozenges - Throat lozenges are available in a variety of flavors. You may want to keep a number of different types on hand: eucalyptus for adults and cherry or lemon flavors for younger members of the family. Do not allow children under five to use lozenges as they can be a choking hazard.

· Vick's VapoRub - Although chest rubs are an old-fashioned remedy, they can still be soothing for severe congestion.

Comforts

Keeping a few other items on hand can help you to weather illness in the household a little more easily:

· Extra bedding - Blankets and extra pillows to make the patient comfortable.

· Amusements - Keep "sick day" coloring books and small construction toys on hand to occupy small children.

· Takeout food numbers - If the adults are sick, you will have numbers or email addresses of nearby takeout establishments to preserve family mealtimes.

Practical Ways To Prepare For Cold And Flu Season

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