Stay Well in Cold and Flu Season

avoid being sick
The Sickest Who in Whoville

Taking a sick day used to sound so fun. You get to drink 7-Up, shuffle around in pajamas, and spend all day watching movies. Great, except for the part where you feel terrible.  

Once you have kids, being sick becomes a whole new reason for concern. There are no paid sick days for moms, and sick babies are pretty much the saddest thing ever. The photo is Lane with a cold on Christmas morning last year.

I’m trying to go into cold and flu season prepared this time. Here are a couple of things I’m doing to keep us healthy:

1. A ridiculous amount of hand washing.

Maybe 10 to 15 times a day with a bar of soap, plus whenever we come home after being in public. I think hand washing is what protected me when my coworkers refused to take sick days. (Which reminds me… people, please take sick days. No one wants to worry every time you cough in the next cubical or sneeze on their stapler. It’s not worth it.)

2. Antiseptic.

When someone in our family shows the first signs of illness, I go around and disinfect the germ-prone surfaces with isopropyl rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. I wipe the light switches, door knobs, phone, keyboard, faucets, and anything else that might have hidden germs lurking.

3. Salt water.

My granny’s remedy for sore throats is tried and true: dissolve a spoonful of salt into a cup of warm water and gargle with it. The salt cleanses and helps soothe your throat. If you do it a few times when you first start feeling a sore throat, it can keep it from getting worse.

These are my three favorite tips to stay well and prevent illness. What are your best ways to prevent and treat a cold? (Read the comments for readers’ best natural tips.)
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. 1. Avoid malls and most other stores during the Holidays. Perhaps not a tall order for people more experienced in living the Simple Life (and I admit, I haven’t been a Mall Rat in many a moon), but I’ve been following this self-discovered advice ever since the year I went to the mall for NOT MORE THAN FIVE MINUTES to pick up a Salvation Army angel tree gift request. The next day, boom! The worst respiratory flu hit me since I’d quit wearing pig tails. I know it was the mall visit that did me in; I hadn’t been anywhere else that day.

    2. Elderberry concentrate. When my throat begins with that ominious tickle, I start in with the elderberry juice. We have a local elderberry winery whose small bottles of concentrated juice sell off the shelves during cold and flu season. One to two flatware teaspoons in your water, o.j., tea, etc. every few hours really helps me avoid the full onslaught of a cold.

    Jennifer in KS’s last blog post..Mystery Flora Theatre 3000

  2. I find echinacea good, although it does not seem to work for everyone. I find it fantastic for giving me that boost if a cold or flu is setting in… 3 or 4 days and I seem to cope well. Also, anything that keeps my sinuses clear – ear candles (hopi candles), nasal spray… that helps me recover fast too.
    Trust you all stay well through your winter! (Its summer down under).

    angelvalerie’s last blog post..More on contentment

  3. I have a preschooler, so I can pretty much expect him to bring home the virus du jour. We just try to roll with it, be prepared with chicken stock, Motrin & Tylenol, lotion tissues. I find that being ready for the bugs really takes some of the stress out of sick days.

    Now, we have flexibility when it comes to work…I don’t know what I’d do if I had to punch in at a job. :)

    Emily in Ohio’s last blog post..And There It Goes….

  4. We have a whole line of defense whenever anyone starts to feel poorly. This usually helps prevent anything from getting past that “I feel like I might be coming down with something” stage:
    **Echinacea tincture. We give our toddler the glycerite tincture (find in your HFS) and he loves it and asks for more.
    **Large doses of vitamin C. Again, our toddler begs for this. We get the chewable NOW brand with xylitol – so tasty :).
    **Raw garlic. We eat this in all sorts of foods – especially good in tomatoes as a salsa and an olive oil-vinegar salad dressing. Garlic is so good for you, sick or not.
    **Probiotics. We take these both in pill form and in foods like garlic, yogurt and raw sauerkraut. Did you know that about 80% of our immune defenses are in our intestines?
    **Zinc supplements.

    Hope that helps.

    Shannon’s last blog post..Kitchen tip: reuse parchment paper

  5. I just heard on the news last night that shopping cart handles have more germs than a toilet seat! Ewwww! I used to roll my eyes at the OC moms who wiped down the handles before shopping, but now I carry wipes for just that purpose! I do avoid the stores as much as I can in principle, but you HAVE to buy groceries…

    chinamama4’s last blog post..A Chinese Kitchen

  6. rest, rest and more rest.

  7. Lots of rest and heat. If you feel the beginings of a cold coming on bundle yourself up in clothes and blankets and at least for one night get a decent amount of sleep. Increasing your body temp keeps the bad cold bacteria/virus more quickly. Keep hydrated too.

    Karen’s last blog post..Happy Howl-o-ween

  8. Vitamin C in all its forms. Supplements help, but so does lots of orange juice, strawberries and red bell peppers :)

  9. In the name of prevention I make sure that we get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. If nothing else, it keeps our immune system healthy so if we do get a bug it isn’t as bad as it could be. Knock on wood….it’s been 2+ years since anyone in our house has had anything more than a sniffle or two.

    Nancy’s last blog post..The Economics of Pizza

  10. smallnotebook says:

    I’m going to look for elderberry concentrate next time I’m at Whole Foods or the health food store.

    These are great ideas everyone!

  11. It’s not very natural, but I swear by Zicam. The nasal gel version works the best. I used to be a 2 week cold victim- eyes watering so bad it looked like I’d been prize-fighting, chills that made me shake, etc. Now I start to feel bad on Monday, start using the Zicam steadily at the first sign, and by Friday I’m usually aces. Aside from the Zicam I make sure to keep hydrated, rinse with salt water if my throat is sore, take steamy showers, and use my vaporizer at night. I like to eat chicken soup and pasta with plenty of garlic and drink hot peppermint tea.

    Jessica’s last blog post..Venting

  12. I try to make sure my family is eating healthily (is that a word? :) ) all the time, but when one or all of us is starting to feel sick, I make sure we are getting extra fruits and veggies. I also run a cool mist humidifier in my daughter’s room and we wash hands and use disinfectant compulsively.

    Once someone has the sniffles, I really like the triaminic flowing vapors to help us breathe a little easier. (I posted about this last week if you’d like more info)

    For me (and I see these are available for older children now too) I also sleep with a generic version of the breathe right strip on, it really helps me breathe better!

    Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom’s last blog post..12 Days of (Tip) Junkie Shop A Thon

  13. We got our last bug when our then 8-month old picked it up from a shopping cart. He passed it to us AND all of our friends, and that’s the sickest I’ve been in a really long time. I never have colds that last 6 weeks. The stores around us don’t have the antibacterial wipes so I bring my own now. And try to carry him instead of putting him in the shopping cart. And wash his hands when we get home, though it’s rather difficult to wash a squirmy 11-month old’s hands.

    I also LOVE airborne. Something about the fizzy-ness just makes me feel better, and I do believe it has nipped several sore throats in the bud.

  14. I don’t know if this is what did or not, but my family gets sick much less since we lowered the heat temperature in the winter. We used to keep it snug and warm in the house, around 75 degrees. We have lowered the temp to 72 a couple of years ago and since then, we haven’t had nearly as many colds as before.

  15. Gay,

    In the winter a lower temperature means lower humidity in your house, and the less moisture in the air the more difficult it is for bacteria and viruses to live on their own. Warm temperatures are best inside your bodies as mentioned above(by Karen)…one of the most natural defenses against sickness is body heat (or fever).

    Wash everything, drink water and I’m seeing lots of good advice here….go Probiotics!

  16. I also recommend Emergen-C for packing in the vitamins to boost your immune system. We keep these, as well as Halls Defense Vitamin C drops and hand sanitizer, on hand at all times. We even take a travel bag with all three with us in the car, on vacation, and on out of town trips.

  17. I just thought of something else. Avoid sugar in all of it’s forms – including juice. Eat whole fruits instead. Sugar, even from juice, suppresses our immune system for up to 12-24 hours. That means if we are eating sugar in any form continuously our immune system is still suppressed while trying to ward off that bug you have. Even cough syrups, drops, etc. have sugar in them, so look out.

    Shannon’s last blog post..Kitchen tip: reuse parchment paper

  18. I’m all about the handwashing, hand sanitizer, and (if we have some on hand) generic Air-Borne!!

  19. I just joined a gym and I am having such a hard time not thinking of all the germs there. I tend to be a germophobe anyway…so, yeah…. GROSS!
    For defense, we all marched in and got our flu shots a couple weeks ago. And I make my kids wash wash WASH their hands constantly and use the Purell Sanitizer.

    That being said, my middle child is complaining of a sore throat today. So maybe it’s the start of Winter Plague ’08 around here. :)

    Kelli’s last blog post..Fraught

  20. Preventative:
    – Try to avoid stress, or is you have no choice about stressful situations (i.e. family events, work, etc.) make time soon after/during to wind down from those. A warm bath and a glass of wine can help bring down stress levels wonderfully.
    – Drink lots of water long before you start to feel sick. If you know of anyone around you that is ill (or even just knowing that the flu/cold season is coming) start drinking a good amount of water.

    – Do your best to rest. Unfortunately taking a sick day is frowned upon in some workplaces, especially during this time of the year *cough*mine*cough*. So don’t feel bad about going to bed as soon as you get home, or sleeping on and off all day on the weekend when you’re feeling poorly. It’s better to have a short illness and a messy house, than a long one and somewhat better looking house. :-P
    – Chicken stock is awesome! ‘Nough said. :-P
    – Never underestimate the power of hot water/lemon tea and lots of honey, just the smell and warmth in my hands makes me feel a bit better.

  21. Get sleep! If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body’s defenses aren’t as strong and you’re more susceptible to what is going around.
    Also, try to de-stress. Your immune system isn’t as strong when you are stressed and you are more likely to get sick.
    Eat lots of vitamin C – oranges and broccoli are great. Taking a supplement is also good, but nothing replaces the vitamin C you can get from fresh fruit and veggies.

  22. Now, if you had just posted this about a week ago! :) My kids are sporting that same “shiny” face that your little has in the picture!

    Keri’s last blog post..Pumpkin Lapbook

  23. I always carry around a bottle of Purell. There are too many sick and selfish people out there for us to wait until we get home to wash hands. You never know who touched that shopping cart before you! That too gets a squirt before we enter the store.

  24. 1. I love Emergen-c. As soon as I start feeling the cold come on I start taking one with every meal. I believe it has really prevented a lot of colds in our household.
    2. We do probiotics after a round of diarrhea or vomiting and we all usually reset quicker afterwards.
    3. Recently we started giving bovine colostrum tablets to our kids when they were sick. Human colostrum has amazing antibody properties and so when a friend suggested i it made sense to me.

  25. Many of mine have been mentioned (probiotics – YES!). At the first sign of sniffles, Kyle and I do the NeilMed sinus rinse (so very glamorous, I know) and we both swear by it.

    It’s so HARD when the wee ones have the sniffles, isn’t it? When I was doing some research earlier this week on the amazing powers of breastmilk, I came across several sources that noted that breastmilk can be used as a decongestant. A few drops in the nose just like saline drops is supposed to work! (haven’t tried it myself yet)

    We don’t do flu vaccines, but if you choose to, I would of course recommend making sure it is thimerosal-free!

    Great and timely article, Rachel. Thanks! (and here’s to a sniffle-free Christmas for Miss Lane!)

    Megan@SortaCrunchy’s last blog post..Babywearing Week Begins!

  26. Get a Neti Pot (available online or at your co-op) and use it at the first sign of a cold or sore throat. In all the gazillions of medical studies done concerning the common cold, only one treatment has been shown to shorten the illness – the use of saline solution in the nose, which is what a neti pot provides. Kids don’t like it but adults and older kids can use it. I think there is a new product that is easier to use for children but I can’t remember what it is at the moment. Also, I would second the no-sugar rule. I can always feel my immunity weakening when I eat more than a small amount of refined carbs.

  27. This may sound silly but my two tips have gotten me through many many winters, these are practical and require no money spent.
    1. Every now and again, crack your windows to let in some fresh air, ok, yes I guess this might make your heat kick on but the fresh, cool air every now and again will clear things out. Even if no one is sick in the house at the time, you never know what is lurking around. My sixth grade teacher always had the windows cracked in our room and we would complain about it as 11/12 year olds but we were always the healthiest homeroom! I learned that tip in 1991!
    2. As a former child-life specialist in a hospital setting working with children who were on chemo and kids waiting for transplants, germs were a big, scary thing. So this is another practical tip. Don’t have your kids cough or sneeze into their hands, that does NO GOOD, have them cough or sneeze into their elbow crease of their arm, or just their arm in general. No one shakes your arm and arms don’t touch toys, handles, etc. This took me several (hundred probably) reminders to teach to my 2 year old, but he knows now to cough or sneeze into his arm.

    Jenny’s last blog post..Puppies and trains and turkey’s

  28. I agree with Jenny…cough or sneeze into your sleeve…here is a corny but funny video on coughing into your sleeve. Silly but true!

    Elizabeth’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday

  29. We’re lucky here, we don’t get sick very often. That being said, Vintage Girl and I both went down with colds this year. Once I’m sick, lots of fluids (especially hot tea) and sleep – the sleep part doesn’t usually happen.

    Vintage Girl all but stops eating when she doesn’t feel well, so I give her diluted apple juice and some saltines as often as I can and wait for her to feel better.

    As far as prevention goes: healthy food and exercise!

    Vintage Mommy’s last blog post..Mommy Moment or Senior Moment?

  30. ECHINACEA tea. I swear by it at the very first sign of a cold or cough – when I get that little tickle in my throat that I know is going to turn into swollen glands by the end of the day.

    And hot theraflu.

    Crystal’s last blog post..he was a soldier once

  31. When I start to feel a cold coming on, (for me it’s a scratchy throat) I immediately do an ear drop application of hydrogen peroxide (about 4-6 drops) in each ear. (I lie on my side for about 10 minutes to let the peroxide do it’s stuff, then switch to the other side for the application.) When there’s a bacteria bug inside, I hear the “bubbling” — if I don’t hear any bubbling, my layman assumption is that it’s not infected.

    I also gargle with it diluted. Tastes awful, however it works for me!

  32. We also use the salt water gargle – it truly does work wonders!
    Another thing that we go through like wildfire when colds and flus come to visit our house is Vicks Vaporub. Rub it on your chest, put some under your nose or on your pillow to inhale, or stick some on a hankie and keep it in your pocket to inhale during the day for your stuffy nose.
    Drink as much water as you can.
    Use a vapouriser if you’ve got one.
    Don’t forget to prop yourself up with an extra pillow in bed if you’re really congested and are finding it difficult to sleep.
    My husband also works for a pharmaceutical company who happen to make a few different cold and flu medications so we always have a supply of these on hand as well :)
    I hope Lane feels better soon!

    Meegan @ Harveys at Home’s last blog post..Dressing up. Owen style.

  33. Hi, before I started Maternity Leave I worked in a girls boarding school as a nurse. I was surrounded by terrible coughs, colds and flu’s year round but was never sick myself in the two years I worked there. I’m sure every nurse would agree that handwashing is essential for preventing the spread of infections.
    I definately agree with the salt water gargle. I suggested gargles to all of the girls who complained of a sore throat and many boarders would come to the Health Centre before, during and after school to use our basin for this.
    For sinus/nasal congestion we used steam-inhalers with eucalyptus to help open up the airways (tip – have a huge box of tissues on hand as this really gets the snot flowing!).
    To boost the immune system we gave doses of olive leaf extract. Most of the girls complained about the taste (hideous) but it really helps. Better than Echinacea.
    We also arranged flu vaccinations for boarders and staff.
    Now I’m at home I’ve lived through several of my baby and husbands’ colds and still not become sick. I’ve used a vaporizer/humidifier with eucalyptus in my baby’s bedroom for his last 2 colds and its helped him sleep by preventing that persistent dry cough.
    I also agree with opening the windows to let in fresh air. This tip goes way back to the days of Florence Nightingale.
    PS – I’m in Australia. Not sure if eucalyptus goes by another name.

  34. Sleep and healthy food. I think almost anything can be cured with those 2 things :)

    Another thing… carry your own pen. Don’t use the pen available at stores – tons of germs.

    Washing hands – I couldn’t agree more!

    Dana @ Letters to Elijah’s last blog post..Another healthy breakfast

  35. Our unofficial TNT remedy: Vitamin C
    I know…I know…it doesn’t really do anything. That’s because most people don’t take enough. I give my kids 250 mg daily as a maintenance dose, 500 mg when someone gets sick and the sick kid gets 1000 mg. Adults get 500 as a maintenance, 1000 if someone is sick and 2000 if they are sick. Disclaimer: Check with your doctor first!

    Also, keep them away from McDonald’s playlands from September to May. Actually, keeping them away from any kids at all works great! But I’m getting carried away….

    Jennifer’s last blog post..I’m so thankful for….

  36. Netti pot sinus rinse with warm tap water and 1/8 teaspoon salt with 1/8 teaspoon baking soda Don’t forget this step, or the burning pain will make it unbearable to tolerate water in the nose ( I combine equal parts salt and baking soda in a container with a lid and store it with a spoon and netti pot in the bath room and rinse when I brush my teeth, more often when I am sick) Also scrupulously avoid dairy for the duration,,,,,refrigerated Silk Soy milk is a great tasting substitute. We bring our own toys,tissues magazine, pen and hand sanitizer when we make trip to the Dr.
    I cover the shopping cart child seat with a big cover that I bought online at, but I have seen these covers at TJMaxx and such.

  37. Because Mad Cow Disease may exist here ( we just don’t know for certain) the bovine colostrum may just not be worth the risk. Just my opinion, better safe than sorry.

  38. I’ve just started to read your blog and thought I’d say hello. My oldest daughter (of 3) has celiac and other food allergies too.
    I’m not too careful about keeping clean hands or wiping grocery carts. Germs are everywhere. You just have to eat well and stay hydrated and you won’t get it too bad!
    My daughter started using Neil Med when she was 4 and she even asks for it when she’s feeling stuffed up!

    Cori’s last blog post..let them eat pie!

  39. I am going to read through all of these because my mom has a TERRIBLE cold! We got our flu shots about a week ago, so I hope that stops the flu this year! I had it for 6 weeks last year and nearly died!! Terrible stuff it is.

    By the way, I am having a giveaway on my blog! I would love for your to stop by and check it out! :)

    Nikki’s last blog post..{Christmas come early!}

  40. Sorry, I don’t have cold or flu tips, but if you’re interested in the flu trends, here’s an article that can help let you know how close the flu is to you.

  41. Thanks for your comment on my blog earlier and thanks for the cold tips.

    Jolene’s last blog post..How I Really Feel About Our Economy

  42. Don’t forget:
    “Teach your children to sneeze and cough into the inside of their elbows instead of into their hands. That way they don’t spread their own germs.”

  43. As others have said keeping hydrated and warm, and taking pleanty of vitamins – particularly vitamin C – is the best way to keep sickness at bay. Not heating your house too much helps a lot of well.

    If you do get sick though the best cure by far is a tea made from fresh lemon, wild honey, and raw garlic.

    Stew it all together in a pot for about 5 minutes and then drink it; drink lots of it, and make sure it is really hot.

    The lemon kills bugs, provides vitamin C, provides electrolytes to keep you hydrated, settles your stomach, and raises your metabolism (very useful). It also helps clear blocked synuses.

    The honey also kills bugs – more effectively than all cough medicines (I promise, there is actually a scientific study demonstrating this) – and it raises you metabloism and provides energy to maintain high body temp.

    Raw garlic is one of the best immune system boosts know to man and… yes… it also kills bugs very well.

    If you drink 2 or 3 (or more!) cups of that a day, I guarantee you will be feeling better a lot faster.

    And finally – AVOID PARACETAMOL – never ever ever take paracetamol unless your fever is really really high. Fever is an immune response and the best way to kill really bad viruses that your white blood cells can’t handle.

    Good luck!


  44. My friend sent me a really neat gift for my kids and me. It is called a Germy Wormy. It reduces the spread of germs as it is a “disposable sleeve to protect clothes” and is a great tool to teach my kids to cough and sneeze in their elbow instead of their hands. (The Surgeon General recommends this procedure.) Check out their website.

    They have a fun for kids puppet show, activities, and a place to order the “arm sleeve”.

  45. There are several things you can do to help with the cold or flu besides chicken soup, vitamin C and zinc, there’s also garlic and wet socks.