How to protect yourself from severe disease if you get COVID-19

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We’re living in stressful times. At the moment, life feels like we’re all actors in the opening scenes of an apocalyptic film. Except it’s real.

I’ve returned to my blog after an embarrassingly long absence because my daughter is away from home and experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. As a mum, I hate being unable to hug, nurse, and care for her. So, feeling helpless, I did what I could do and researched ways of reducing the risk of having a severe infection.

With coronavirus, people around the country are having to self-isolate and self-care- but there’s not much guidance on self-help. Just rest, drink, and hope for the best. However, some things could help you recover from COVID-19.

I found an interesting review from The New England Complex Systems Institute on how to improve respiratory health and improve COVID-19 outcomes[1]. I’ve summarised it, together with other ways of boosting your immunity:

How to help yourself if you have coronavirus symptoms

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Coronavirus is a novel virus that our bodies aren’t used to facing and fighting. There’s currently no cure, but anything that we can do to improve health, wellbeing, and immunity can better equip you to overcome the infection:

Don’t wallow in your virus

When you’re feeling ill, it’s tempting to forget about hygiene. However, good ventilation and keeping your environment clean will stop you from being re-exposed to viral particles, which could infect parts of the lungs that aren’t already affected. Opening a window, showering, washing hands, and changing your sheets will all help get rid of the virus from your surroundings.

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Open a window

Try and encourage outward airflow to clear virus and bring in fresh air.

Breathe through your nose

The nose is an effective air cleanser. The tiny hairs and mucous membranes act as a shield against disease. The nose also warms and moistens air making it more comfortable to breathe.

Breathe deeply

Try and practise deep breathing several times a day. It helps improve outcomes in lots of lung conditions, and although it’s too early to have definitive research for people with COVID-19, it makes sense to keep the air moving throughout as much of the lungs as possible.

Most of us only use a fraction of our lung capacity; breathing deeply can stop virus stagnating in parts of the lungs. If it hurts to breathe deeply, supporting any tender areas with your hand can help. This video from team members from ITU at Queen’s University Hospital, Belfast gives useful advice on breathing exercises:

Get moving

Physical fitness can help boost your immunity and protect you from infection. That’s why the government has encouraged us all to be active once a day during the lockdown. However, moderate daily exercise can also help in the early or mild stages of coronavirus infection. Exercise improves lung ventilation and may support immune function.

If you can, get outside and walk, jog or dance. I know that’s tricky if you don’t have a garden and need to stay two metres away from other people. If you’re in a small space, try star jumps or jogging on the spot on a balcony or near an open window. Let your body be your guide, and don’t push it if you’re feeling weak, dizzy, or unwell.

Temperature control?

Paracetamol can control fever and help you feel better. However, if you’re feeling OK and your temperature is under safe limits (at 39.4 C according to The Mayo Clinic), it may be better to live with the fever. Raising your core temperature is one of your body’s ways of fighting an infection[2]. If you may have coronavirus infection, it’s not advisable to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. They dampen the body’s inflammatory response, which may be essential for battling the virus.

Feed a fever?

No superfood or supplement will prevent coronavirus infection. However, a healthy diet can support your immune system and help you fight the disease. Low levels of Vitamin D are linked to a reduced immune response. Our bodies can make it in sunlight, but dull weather and being socially isolated indoors can mean that lots of us lack this essential micronutrient, so it may be worth taking a supplement daily.

There’s evidence that vitamin C supplements can improve recovery from the common cold, some strains of which are caused by a type of coronavirus. It’s not clear whether supplementation will affect COVID-19, but I’ve sent my daughter supplies of vitamins C and D, just in case! The British Nutrition Foundation advocates a good multivitamin and mineral supplement, find out more on their website.

Stay hydrated

The social media rumour mill has been errr…awash (sorry) with advice to keep sipping water to stop coronavirus, getting a grip. Professor Trudie Lang at the University of Oxford told the BBC that you couldn’t wash a respiratory virus away by drinking fluids. However, drinking water and staying hydrated is vital for your general health and wellbeing[3]. Drinking enough is particularly important if you’re feverish and unwell, when you may lose fluid and electrolytes from increased sweating.

Rest and recovery

Sleep is your body’s opportunity to rest and repair damaged cells. Sleep is also critical for the healthy function of the immune system[4].So, getting adequate sleep is a vital part of your armoury against the infection.

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It can be tricky when you’re housebound, and your usual routines are disturbed by lockdown. Your body has a natural clock that helps you sleep at night and wake in the morning. Try and make use of this by going to sleep and getting up at a similar time every day, so your body knows what to expect. Cut down on caffeine and other stimulants and limit screen-time, the light from devices has higher levels of blue light, which affects the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

Hopefully, staying home, stopping unnecessary travel, and practising social distancing will keep many people safe from this new virus. These self-care tips are no substitute for prevention.

If you do develop a fever, a new continuous cough, difficulty breathing, or you’ve lost your sense of smell (which ENT surgeons are flagging as a potential symptom), do not leave your home. To protect others, do not go to places like a GP surgery, pharmacy, or hospital.

The 111 online coronavirus service will help you find out what to do and how to access medical help if needed, and hopefully, these tips may help some people ( including my daughter) have a less severe illness.

 

 

[1] Blake Elias, Chen Shen and Yaneer Bar-Yam, Respiratory health for better COVID-19 outcomes, New England Complex Systems Institute (March 16, 2020).

[2] Sharon S Evans, Elizabeth A Repasky, and Daniel T Fisher. Fever and the thermal regulation of immunity: the immune system feels the heat. Nature Reviews Immunology, 15(6):335–349, 2015.

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-51735367

[4] https://www.health24.com/Medical/Infectious-diseases/Coronavirus/heres-how-quality-sleep-can-help-you-fight-the-new-coronavirus-20200316-2

I’m still hot, it just comes in flashes now.

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Helping yourself through the menopause.

I woke up in a total lather last night. I was hot, sweaty and dishevelled and sadly not for any fun reasons.

I may have been rather too entangled in the duvet, there may have been an unusually warm spell in our corner of the frozen north, or it may be my poor middle-aged ovaries starting to give up the ghost.

Now one sweaty night isn’t enough to have me scrabbling for the HRT but it has inspired me to see if there is anything I can do to bolster my flagging hormones and stave off any menopausal madness for a little longer.

The usual suspects:

There’s evidence that women who are more active tend to suffer less. Not all types of activity though, oh no, the hard, sweaty, intensive stuff can actually make symptoms worse. The best bet is sustained, steady and aerobic, like swimming or running, basically the sort of stuff I hate. Cutting back on booze and caffeine can also reduce symptoms.

So far, so depressingly predictable, in desperation I decided to dig a little deeper.

You are what you eat:

Did you know that the Japanese don’t even have a word for the menopause? Apparently they glide effortlessly from periods to errrrr past it (sorry, I’m a sucker for alliteration) because of all the soy in their diets. And it’s not just the flushes that they avoid. they also have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and breast, colon, endometrial and ovarian cancers.

It’s down to the fact that soya contains natural plant oestrogens, which have a similar effect to our own female hormones. But it’s going to take a bit more than a splash of soy sauce on your stir-fry to make a difference; you’ll need to stock up on tofu, miso and all other soy products. Phytoestrogens are also found in nuts, seeds especially flax and sesame, hummus and dried apricots.

The natural alternative

If you can’t stomach soy, there are a whole host of supplements available to boost your phytoestrogens. The research evidence is a little mixed as to their effectiveness. However, I told my mother to take soy isoflavone supplements when she was struggling after coming off HRT and she started bleeding again, in her late sixties, so there’s certainly something potent going on! [Quick disclaimer, she had a D and C, no problems found and she’s still talking to me, so all is well.]

The main options are:

Soy: as my Mum found, it can decrease menopausal symptoms but can have an effect on the womb. See your doctor if there’s any bleeding.

Red Clover: may help reduce hot flushes and night sweats

 Herbal helpers

The benefits of herbal remedies haven’t been fully proven by research trials but they may be worth a try.

Black Cohosh: has been shown to decrease hot flushes, night sweat and other vasomotor symptoms.

St John’s Wort: there is good evidence that this works well for mild to moderate depression and it has worked well for me in the past, it may be of benefit if the change of life is bringing you down.

Many women have also told me that they get benefit from other treatments including agnus castus, selenium, vitamin C and herbs such as ginkgo biloba, hops, sage leaf, liquorice and valerian root – there are very few studies to date but much of the research is still in the early stages.

[This is probably the right time to direct you to my ‘covering my butt bit’ and say that supplements and herbal remedies have active ingredients and can cause side effects and interact with medications. Make sure you read all the info and see your doctor or pharmacist if you have any worries]

I’m probably in the early stages of the peri-menopause, so I think my first step is going to be getting rid of the thick quilt on my bed and maybe (sob) cutting down on coffee and wine. I’ll also look into introducing more seeds and soya into my diet. When the going gets tough, I’ll up the supplements and if that’s not enough, I’ll be straight off to my GP to think about HRT.

I may not keep myself fertile and fabulous forever-but I may make the menopause easier for myself, and everyone around me.

Find out more:

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

NickPanay.com -I used to work for Nick way back in the day when I had a proper job, he is now a top menopause consultant so worth checking out.

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