It’s just what you don’t want for Christmas – a red and runny nose, a sore throat, and a head that seems to be stuffed with cotton wool. It can feel as though this unwanted gift comes every year at this time, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of catching the Christmas cold.
How to avoid catching a cold
1. Avoid crowds
“Pre-Christmas colds are common, and there are possible reasons for this,” explains Professor Ronald Eccles, Director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University. “ It may be because people are in more crowded situations before Christmas – out shopping for instance, or at parties.”
Finding yourself caught up in a crowd means that you’re going to be much closer to a large number of people than you usually are. It only takes one sneeze or cough in your direction for you to breath in cold germs, and turn yourself into a mobile cold factory.
If you can, avoid the busiest times to travel on public transport, and the most crowded public places, such as shopping centres at peak shopping times.
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2. Don’t touch your eyes
Another common way to catch a cold is to touch surfaces that have the common cold virus on them – door handles in public places for instance. Then you have the cold virus on your hands. All you need to do to get the cold virus into your system is to touch your nose, or rub your eye. Within a few days you can be sneezing and blowing your nose. Keeping your hands away from your face – especially your nose and eyes – can reduce your risk of catching a cold.
3. Wash your hands
Wash your hands often, at home, and when you’re out and about. Also, avoid rubbing your eyes with your hands. This can help reduce your likelihood of catching someone else’s cold, and can prevent other people catching your cold. Washing your hands regularly is one of the most effective ways to avoid catching a cold.
4. Watch out for the love bugs
Christmas is a great time to spoil the youngest members of your family, and it’s hard to resist hugs and kisses when your grandchildren come round. Be careful, though. Because children are too young to have build up immunity against cold viruses they can be walking reservoirs of one of the 200 or so cold viruses we know about.
Before any little ones come to visit – or you visit them - ask their parents to check them for signs of cold symptoms. If they’re sneezing and have runny noses, they could probably infect you. Ask if they could come to visit when they’re feeling better, and less contagious.
5. Check with friends if they have a cold
It isn’t just grandchildren with colds you should be avoiding – friends of your own age can pass on their cold virus too.
As we grow older, our bodies go through many bouts with cold viruses. As a result our immune systems learn how to tackle the different viruses, so we do get better at fighting them off.
However, you still may not want to risk a Christmas cold. Check with friends if they have a cold, and let them know if you have one, before you visit.
(School children have seven to 10 colds a year, but adults generally only have between two and five colds each year, as they have built up immunity over the years.)
6. Kisses don’t spread colds
It’s probably OK to give – and receive – Christmas kisses. According to the Common Cold Centre, colds aren’t spread to other people by kissing. Cold viruses travel through the air, when we sneeze or cough.
7. Get some sleep
A small study carried out in 2015 found that lack of sleep was associated with an increased risk developing a cold. The volunteers who took part and had only five hours sleep were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept for more than seven hours a night.
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