when to worry about a cough

When cold and flu season arrives, it’s a good time to review your personal habits for keeping yourself healthy. The best way to stay ahead of a cold, the flu, Covid-19, and other bugs is not to get sick in the first place.

Keep these best practices in mind to ward off illnesses this season:

Wash Your Hands

Your mother was right. Wash your hands. Wash them after a trip to the grocery store, gas pump, religious service, doctor’s office (especially there!), work, or school. Handwashing is the first line defense from spreading germs of all kinds.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has explored the science behind hand hygiene, handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. Clean hands can help stop germs from spreading from one person to another and in our communities.  Follow these five steps every time.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or an air dryer.

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Cover Coughs and Sneezes

It is hard to keep from getting airborne illnesses. These are defined as illnesses that spread out and linger in the air when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. To get the picture, think of the mist you see after spraying a room deodorizer.

The bacteria and viruses we blow out of our noses and mouths when sneezing or coughing linger in the air for a longer period and can float up to several feet away. The droplets settle onto surfaces – such as telephones, keyboards, doorknobs, stair rails – and we pick them up on our hands.

That’s why it’s best to cover a cough or sneeze – but not with your hand. That will just spread germs in a different way. Cover your mouth/nose with the bend in your arm. For proper technique:

  1. Bring one hand up toward opposite ear so elbow crease comes to your mouth/nose.
  2. Sneeze/cough into the crease.
  3. Repeat as needed.

Teach kids to cover sneezes and coughs like this when they’re young to start a lifelong habit.

Mask Up!

In the post-Covid-19 world, few people will be surprised to see you show up wearing a mask. If you are actively sick, consider wearing a mask to prevent spreading your germs to others. If you want to take every precaution to prevent illness, wear a KN-95 or similar mask to protect yourself.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Eat balanced, healthy, wholesome foods. Beware prepared foods and those that are full of sugar or preservatives. Eat a variety of colors in your diet and eat regularly throughout the day. Drink 8 glasses of water per day. A hungry or dehydrated body cannot generate optimal immunity when viruses or bacteria are trying to invade it.

Sleep Well

Get the optimum number of hours of sleep that you need. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), good sleep health is needed to repair the brain, refresh the body, and recharge the immune system. Lack of sleep also increases the level of stress hormones in the blood.

Poor sleep hygiene can interfere with good quality sleep. The CDC recommends these quick steps to improve your sleep:

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.


Vaccines help the body amplify its own immunity response. Vaccines are the best way to protect yourself long-term against illnesses. In addition to flu shots, Covid-19 vaccines and boosters are recommended.

Some people also need vaccines against Streptococcus Pneumoniae (pneumonia vaccine): diabetics, people with lung disease including asthma, and those without spleens. If you meet one of these conditions, talk to your provider about what other vaccines you may need.

Children have a special schedule of routine vaccinations that are recommended or required for school. Talk to your child’s primary care provider to ensure they are up to date on vaccinations.

A small tweak in your daily habits can help you stay ahead of germs this cold and flu season.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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