How to avoid catching a cold

There are 200 different cold viruses out there lying in wait for us, but they can be outwitted. Dr Margaret Stearn gives the 10 key rules to follow to avoid catching a cold
Box of tissuesFollowing these simple steps will greatly reduce your risk of catching a cold

No 1 Wash your hands after being in a crowded place or in the same room as someone with a cold. This really works. A survey published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that episodes of colds and flu among 1,442 naval recruits at a training centre in Great Lakes Illinois almost halved after they were commanded to wash their hands more frequently.

The old theory about colds was that cold viruses were spread through the air, carried on tiny droplets of moisture that were then breathed in by other people. This is certainly one method of catching a cold, but experts now believe that many or even most colds are passed on via hands.

No 2  Don't touch your nose and eyes unless you have to. We all do this many times a day without being aware of it. Once the virus is on your hands it's all too easy to transfer it and tears drain from the eyes via a duct into the nose so virus can easily spread from the eyes to the nose.

During a cough or sneeze, 40,000 infected droplets may be expelled as far as 30 feet. Some of these droplets will be deposited on objects, where the virus may survive for up to three hours, to be picked up by anyone who touches the object.

Door handles, handrails on public transport, light switches and crockery are common culprits. You can also pick up cold virus by shaking hands with someone who has recently blown their nose.

No 3 We often pick up colds from people we have never met so wear gloves when you travel on public transport. Yes I know that to some people this might seem a bit over the top but it is very easy to pick up cold virus from handrails on the bus or Tube.

No 4 Your granny was right: you need to wrap up. In an experiment at Cardiff University's Common Cold Centre 90 volunteers spent 20 minutes with their feet in cold water and, surprise, surprise: 29 per cent developed cold symptom within five days compared to 9 per cent of the control group who simply dangled their feet in an empty bowl.

No 5  When wrapping up don't forget your nose - you should cover it with a scarf when the weather is cold. The importance of the effect of cold air in the nose is a new idea. Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Cardiff centre who came up with it, says that viruses multiply in the cells that line the nose, and they breed faster when the cells are cool.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


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  • Anne

    Posted: Friday 31 October 2014

    The experiment done with people sitting with their feet in cold water vs. those with their feet dangling in an empty bowl is not valid. The correct control for the cold water is sitting with feet in water at body temperature.

  • nandhuja nandhan

    Posted: Thursday 14 August 2014

    Nice tips. Even am also getting cold soon. so will be helpfiul

  • philip sheaf

    Posted: Wednesday 16 October 2013

    all good advice but every winter I get two bouts of hacking tickly dry cough,my GP will give me nothing but cough linctus as I am on other medications,this hardly helps at all,only breathing in hot air from a fan does but I fear this maybe bad for my lungs.

  • Franziska

    Posted: Sunday 21 July 2013

    Well written and seems sensible.

  • Bruce Baker

    Posted: Saturday 27 October 2012

    at last a legitamate reason to keep away from other peoples offspring . hhaaaaaaaaaaaaa joking!

  • John OBoyle

    Posted: Monday 08 October 2012

    An excellent and very timely reminder to all of us. The advice is very clear, practical and easy to understand. It will also help reduce the spread of flu (I'm going to get vaccinated even though I'm not entitled to a free jab and have to pay at the Pharmacy)


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How to avoid catching a cold

There are 200 different cold viruses out there lying in wait for us, but they can be outwitted. Dr Margaret Stearn gives the 10 key rules to follow to avoid catching a cold