It's that time of year when it seems like someone is always coming down with cold. People miss work and school to take care of a seasonal sniffle or maybe something more serious.
Cold and flu season is pricey. IBISWorld estimates the over-the-counter medicine industry is worth about $8 billion annually. And whether you're trying to prevent yourself from getting sick or fighting something off, odds are you're spending money to stay healthy.
Everyone's got their tricks, whether they swear by mom's chicken noodle soup or stock up on decongestant.
Marketplace Weekend spoke to two physicians, Dr. Cara Stalzer, a primary care physician at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, and Dr. Santhi Kumar, chief quality and patient safety officer at USC's Keck Medical Center. With their tips, we compiled a go-to tool kit for preventing colds and flu.
Here's how to ward off a seasonal bug for less than $21:
Wash your hands
With soap! It doesn't have to be pricey, it doesn't even have to be antibacterial, but making sure you're stocked up on a good soap is key to warding off a cold or the flu. Wash your hands after meeting new people, touching surfaces out in public and using the restroom. If you're out and about with no access to soap and water, invest in a small bottle of hand sanitizer (usually less than $1.00) and use it when you're around potentially germy surfaces.
Get a flu shot
This crucial step in staying well during cold and flu season is usually free. If you have insurance, you'll likely pay nothing to get your yearly flu shot at your primary care doctor, a pharmacy or even at the office. If you're not insured and don't get free shots through work, the cheapest flu shot we found is at Costco (you don't have to be a member), for $19.99.
Get a lot of sleep
One of the most important immunity protections is free! Getting a good night's rest is one of the best ways to stay healthy.
Load up on green veggies and healthy foods
Eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies is another great way to protect yourself. Adding a little bit of extra fruit and veg to your diet during cold and flu season can keep your body healthy and strong.
We're sticking with our theme of free or nearly free ways to fight off infections and colds. Both doctors say that exercise is a great way to stay healthy in general, and that goes for cold and flu season, too.
If you do get sick, the doctors recommend rest, hydration and treating your symptoms with over-the-counter or prescription medication. A few tips from the professionals: generics work just as well as brand names, and treating individual symptoms (rather than taking a cold medicine that treats a lot of things at once) can be more effective. Another professional tip? Chicken soup. It's an anti-inflammatory, not just a comfort food.
As always, we want to hear from you. What are your tips for staying healthy this time of year? And how much of your budget goes to protecting yourself from colds and flu?