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Some handy ways to avoid colds

DEAR DR. GOTT: My 80-year-old mother refuses to cover her mouth when coughing or sneezing. I just got sick in 24 hours of her coughing/sneezing fits and her flu. I live with her, so can’t get away from it.My immune system is not good and I really work at hand washing and avoiding germs. Any suggestions? DEAR READER: A cold is the most universal illness in humans and is the most common reason for work and school absenteeism. Viruses that cause colds are spread from person to person through droplets of mucus that enter the air from nasal passages. Those droplets are subsequently inhaled by others, and the vicious cycle continues. People can also add to the contamination spread by coughing or sneezing into a hand and then opening a door, holding a telephone receiver, pushing a shopping cart in the grocery store, touching a button in an elevator, reaching for a car door and so the list continues. Your mother is being very short-sighted, but that may be an unrelated issue at this time. I suggest you sit down with her at a time when she is most reasonable and explain that you have her best interests in mind when you ask her not to cough or sneeze without covering her mouth and nose. After all, how can you begin to care for her if you are constantly exposed to germs? It’s a self-defeating act but one that might be difficult to break.One relatively easy approach is to ask her to cough or sneeze into the crook of her elbow. You might even wrap her arm midway between the joint with a hand towel that can be safety-pinned in place to keep it from slipping away. In that way she doesn’t spread the germs around the house and keeps her clothing free from germs. Be sure to keep disposable gloves available to remove the “soiled” towel periodically so you can avoid potential contamination. The towel can then be placed in a small pail or other receptacle with some water and bleach to kill any germs until it is actually washed for re-use. Naturally a new towel should then replace the one that has been removed from her arm. We all have times when a sneeze happens quickly and we don’t have time to prepare by covering our noses with a tissue. The occurrence simply happens. The real problem is when a person constantly fails to take simple steps to decrease the spread of germs on a regular basis.In the interim, wash your hands frequently. I understand you are referring to household avoidance with your question, but germs are out there and any person with a compromised or weakened immune system is at increased risk. • Avoid touching your face — especially your mouth, nose and eyes. • You might consider using disposable drinking cups that can be easily discarded. • Use paper towels in your kitchen and bath rather than terry cloth or bath towels that can harbor germs. • Keep kitchen drawer and door knobs clean by periodically using a spray designed to kill germs. • Have a receptacle easily available for used tissues. Your mother should not expect you to clean up after her in this regard. That’s her job. • While it is difficult to lower the heat in a home with an elderly person, you will remain healthier than if you crank up that thermostat. I might even go so far as to suggest you open your windows every now and then to allow fresh air in. • Last but not least — as far as my space here allows — take care of yourself by eating healthful foods, getting sufficient sleep and outdoor exercise if at all possible and avoiding stressful situations that have been documented as leading to a compromised immune system. In short, you must take care of yourself if you are caring for your mother or spending any appreciable amount of time in the same house together.

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