Tips for staying healthy during the holiday season |

Tips for staying healthy during the holiday season

Michael Schrantz

Hand hygiene is important to staying healthy during the holiday season.

— On average, an adult will get two to five colds per year, according to a study cited by the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. Children might suffer as many as seven to 10 per year, according to the study. With the holiday season combining more than a couple of the risks associated with colds, we talked with Steven Hilley, an infection preventionist and registered nurse at Yampa Valley Medical Center, about what to watch out for during the holiday season and how to stay in your best health.

Stress can have direct and indirect effects on your health

Hilley said that while stress can weaken a person's immune system directly, just as important are the indirect effects of stress. With the pressure of family engagements or long lists of tasks as well as food and treats all around, people can overeat and cause stomach irritation or gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract), Hilley said. A lot of talking or otherwise stressing your throat can open it up to infections, as well. Hilley advised being mindful of how much you're eating and to make sure to drink fluids to stay hydrated.

Watch out for that SkyMall catalog

Travel, and airplanes specifically, is a known risk for germs during the holiday season. But it might not be the guy coughing and sneezing in 36B that you should be worried about. Planes are turned over to prepare for the next passengers in about seven minutes, Hilley said. The SkyMall catalog that will occupy an embarrassingly long amount of your time during the flight still could be carrying the rhinovirus of the last person to sit in your seat. While airborne germs could be floating around the cabin, Hilley said, germs on a magazine or catalog in your hands have a much greater chance of affecting you. Keep that in mind when enjoying the complimentary peanuts.

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"I, personally, carry a hand gel," Hilley said about the small bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizer that are easy to tuck into a bag or purse.

Keeping your hands clean is the best way to limit your exposure to germs, Hilley said. Be mindful of railings you hold onto or things you touch. Hilley also said that hand sanitizer alone isn't enough. You also should be washing your hands regularly with soap and water.

Children are the carriers

All these hygiene tips aren't likely to be followed by children, so keep a careful eye on them.

"Young children represent the main reservoir of common cold viruses," according to the Common Cold Centre's website. Adults who have the most contact with young children — your nieces, nephews, etc. — are the most at risk.

If infected, hydrate and find what works for you

Hilley said that for every study touting zinc and echinacea for colds there is probably another with a different conclusion. "If you've had good experience with zinc, then do it," Hilley said. He also recommended staying hydrated, especially with warm fluids. That might mean limiting beverages like coffee or alcohol that dehydrate you. Dehydration decreases your body's resistance to infection, he said.

Also, be able to tell the difference between types of symptoms. A cold might have similar symptoms to allergies, Hilley said. Colds typically start with a sore throat or cough while allergies might start with a runny nose. The flu also presents similar traits, and Hilley said he is a proponent of vaccination for influenza. If in doubt about what's ailing you, don't hesitate to contact a physician.

Be mindful of the Let Down Effect

The Let Down Effect can lead to illness after a high-stress time, such as the holiday season. Be aware of your mental state, Hilley said. If you feel like you're going to slump, be proactive in taking care of yourself.

"Keep an eye out for friends and family," Hilley said. "Don't be afraid to step in."

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4254 or email