Cold and flu season is rough in the healthcare field. Whether you’re working in a hospital, clinic, or long-term care setting, you can see the steady uprise of admissions, visits, symptoms, and illnesses related to the cold and flu. How can nurses protect themselves and their immune systems during the upcoming cold and flu season? Here are some helpful tips to try.
1. Activate your muscles through exercise
You can frequently see the effects that body systems have on each other when you care for sick patients. During the cold and flu season, sinus and respiratory symptoms can lead to muscle aches and pains, fatigue, headaches, and other symptoms that aren’t just limited to the sinuses. Cold and flu symptoms can affect the entire body.
When you are sick, your immune system produces extra white blood cells and other organisms to fight that disease or infection. Activating that immune system reaction helps your body heal and get better. However, you can activate your immune system before you even get sick. The immune system is linked to other bodily systems, like your nervous system and your endocrine system. By getting the hormones flowing in your endocrine system or the spine moving in your nervous system, you can force your immune system to activate and release these disease-fighting cells. This immune release helps prevent you from getting sick in the first place. So how can you start?
Exercise is one way to activate your body to prevent illness. You can stretch, run, or walk to get the muscles moving. Chiropractic adjustments may also help make sure your body is in optimal stretching form and adds another immune boost.
As nurses, being active can be difficult because of the long hours on your feet during shifts, but even lower-stress exercises can help give you the immune boost to fight off the cold or flu. Be sure that you are keeping your muscles active-try stretching before or after work and change positions frequently. These methods should keep your immune system active and help the other systems of your body stay strong when caring for patients.
2. Get regular checkups and eat a healthy diet
Keeping up with your own regular doctor’s checkups are just as crucial for you as they are for your patients. Make sure your blood tests and hormone levels are regular and make sure you get a balanced, healthy diet are all beneficial ways to keep the immune system and other body systems healthy.
You want to make sure that you are in a good condition to keep up with the demanding tasks as a nurse. If your immune system is compromised, you won’t be able to care for patients efficiently, and you will be more prone to catching a cold.
3. Don’t forget your flu vaccine
The flu vaccine is available every year and comes in slightly different strains to fight the adapting cold and flu conditions. Keep yourself healthy so you can get the vaccine. Nurses usually tell patients to get the flu shot by the end of October, so keep that timeline in mind for yourself as well.
4. Drink plenty of water
If you feel yourself starting to come down with a slight cold or cough, remember to take time for self-care to treat it. Even a minor cold can develop into more serious upper-respiratory symptoms, so don’t neglect it.
Drinking plenty of water is an excellent prevention tool and a smart treatment after you get a cold. Many people are not drinking the correct amount of water they should be per day, so you may be under-hydrated and not realize it. As many as 75% of Americans may be chronically dehydrated, so worry about not drinking enough water before you worry about drinking too much. You should be getting at least eight glasses of water a day if not more.
5. Rest up and try these home remedies
Apart from pushing fluids, use cough drops and over-the-counter medications to treat colds and coughs that are coming on. Other things that could help are steam from a hot bath or shower or using vapor chest rubs to clear the sinuses.
Don’t push through long clinical shifts with these symptoms, as minor as they seem. Rest and sleep are important for the healing process when you’re coming down with something, as nurses know better than anyone. Don’t call out, but do consider changing schedules or switching shifts with someone else if you can when you’re sick. Nurses who work in fields with vulnerable patients like the terminally ill, very young, or elderly should be especially cautious not to come to work sick if they can avoid it. These patients can get sick more easily and suffer more from it, plus that will add to the upper-respiratory illnesses floating around during cold and flu season.
6. Wash your hands
Finally, and possibly most importantly, nurses need to remember to wash their hands. This is drilled into us during nurse training, but how often are you washing your hands thoroughly at home? Take your nursing skills outside of clinical practice and wash hands frequently, use alcohol rub, and perform regular surface cleaning at home to prevent germs from spreading. It’s also ideal to wash your scrubs and take showers frequently–preferably after every shift. Remember, the cold virus can live on surfaces like clothes or body parts, even if you did your best during the workday.