There isn’t anyone who hasn’t gotten a cold or virus just days before a big event. For some people, being sick is a way of life, and days of feeling well are few and far between. Getting rid of sniffles, sneezing, and headaches may seem like a dream, but it’s possible. However, you have to first know what’s making you sick.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a simple saying that holds some truth. If you don’t eat a well-rounded, balanced diet, your body can’t function at its best. A poor diet also increases the risk of various illnesses.
Good nutrition is about getting the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs. Different age groups have different nutritional needs and requirements. But the same general rules apply to people of all ages:
- eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily
- choose lean proteins over fatty ones
- limit your daily intake of fats, sodium, and sugars
- eat whole grains whenever possible
Every tissue and organ within the body depends on water. It helps carry nutrients and minerals to cells, and keeps your mouth, nose, and throat moist — important for avoiding illness. Even though the body is made up of 60 percent water, you lose fluids through urination, bowel movements, sweating, and even breathing. Dehydration occurs when you don’t adequately replace the fluids you lose.
Mild to moderate dehydration is sometimes difficult to identify, but it can make you sick. Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration can be mistaken for general aches and pains, fatigue, headache, and constipation. Both acute and chronic dehydration can be dangerous, even life threatening. Symptoms include:
- extreme thirst
- sunken eyes
- low blood pressure
- fast heartbeat
- confusion or lethargy
The treatment is simple: sip water all day long, especially in hot or humid conditions. Eating foods with a high water content, such as fruits and vegetables, also keeps you hydrated throughout the day. As long as you urinate regularly and don’t feel thirsty, you’re likely drinking enough to stay hydrated. Another gauge of adequate hydration is that your urine color should be clear (or almost clear).
People who don’t get enough sleep each night are more likely to get sick.
Your immune system releases cytokines while you sleep. Cytokines are protein-messengers that fight inflammation and disease. Your body needs more of these proteins when you’re sick or stressed. Your body can’t produce enough of the protective proteins if you’re sleep deprived. This lowers your body’s natural ability to fight infections and viruses.
Long-term sleep deprivation also increases your risk of:
- heart disease
- cardiovascular problems
Most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep each day. Teenagers and children need as much as 10 hours of sleep each day, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Your hands come in contact with many germs throughout the day. When you don’t wash your hands regularly, and then touch your face, lips, or your food, you can spread illnesses. You can even reinfect yourself.
Simply washing your hands with running water and antibacterial soap for 20 seconds (hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice) helps you stay healthy and avoid illness-causing bacteria. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol when clean water and soap aren’t available.
Disinfect countertops, door handles, and electronics (such as your phone, tablet, and computer) with wipes when you’re sick. To prevent the spread of illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands:
- before and after food preparation
- before eating
- before and after caring for a person who is sick
- before and after treating a wound
- after using the bathroom
- after changing diapers or assisting a child with potty training
- after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- after touching pets or handling pet waste or food
- after handling garbage
Your teeth are a window into your health, and your mouth is a safe haven for both good and bad bacteria. When you’re not sick, your body’s natural defenses help maintain your oral health. Daily brushing and flossing also keeps dangerous bacteria in check. But when harmful bacteria grows out of control, it can make you sick and cause inflammation and problems elsewhere in your body.
Long-term, chronic oral health problems can have bigger consequences. Poor oral health is linked to several conditions, including:
- heart disease
- premature birth
- low birth weight
- endocarditis (an infection in the inner lining of the heart)
To promote healthy teeth and gums, brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day (especially after meals), and schedule regular checkups with your dentist.
Immune system disorders occur when a person’s immune system doesn’t fight antigens. Antigens are harmful substances, such as:
- cancer cells
- allergens (such as pollen)
- foreign blood or tissues
In a healthy body, an invading antigen is met by antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that destroy harmful substances. However, some people have immune systems that don’t work as well as they should. These immune systems can’t produce effective antibodies to prevent illness.
You can inherit an immune system disorder, or it can result from malnutrition (not getting enough vitamins and nutrients). Your immune system also tends to get weaker as you get older.
Talk with your doctor if you suspect you or a family member has an immune system disorder.
You can experience symptoms of seasonal allergies, such as itchy eyes, watery nose, and a stuffy head without actually having allergies. This condition is called nonallergic rhinitis.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), this condition affects almost 20 million Americans.
The symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis are similar to those of an allergic reaction. But instead of being caused by ragweed, grass, tree pollen, or another typical allergen, nonallergic rhinitis is caused by strong odors, certain foods, stress, changes in the weather, or even dry air.
Irritation and swelling of the lining of the nasal passages cause nonallergic rhinitis. The blood vessels in your nose expand and blood rushes into the nasal lining. This causes abnormal expansion and inflammation in your nose, which triggers the telltale allergy symptoms. Most people are diagnosed with nonallergic rhinitis after undergoing allergy testing.
Treatment for the condition depends on:
- severity of your symptoms
- your triggers
- if you have other conditions that may complicate treatment
Most people can use a steroid-based nasal spray to flush the nose of irritants and reduce inflammation. Over-the-counter and prescription decongestants are also effective. Side effects of long-term use include high blood pressure, loss of appetite, and anxiety.
Stress is a normal part of life. It can be healthy in small increments. But chronic stress can take a toll on your body and make you sick. Chronic stress can lower your body’s natural immune response. This can delay healing, increase the frequency and severity of infections, and aggravate existing health problems.
Practice stress reduction techniques, such as:
- taking a break from your computer
- avoiding your cell phone for several hours after you get home
- listening to soothing music after a stressful work meeting
- exercising to help reduce stress and improve your mood
You may find relaxation through music, art, or meditation. Whatever it is, find something that reduces your stress and helps you relax. Seek professional help if you can’t control stress on your own.
Kids have the most social contact, which puts them at high risk for carrying and transmitting germs. Playing with fellow students, playing on dirty playground equipment, and picking up objects from the ground are just a few instances where germs can be spread.
Teach your child good hygiene habits, such as frequent hand washing, and bathe them everyday. This helps stop the spread of viruses and germs around your household. Wash your own hands frequently, wipe down common surfaces when someone gets sick, and keep your child home if they are sick.
Once you know what’s making you sick, you can take steps to improve your health, whether it’s by making some lifestyle changes or talking to your doctor.