The last few months of the year bring chilly weather, hot chocolate, scarves and, unfortunately, an assortment of sicknesses.

According to William Schaffner, M.D., chairman of the Department of Preventative Research at Vanderbilt University, there are “lots of hypotheses, not one perfect answer,” as to why the winter season sees an increase in illness. One of the culprits could be close confinement as cold weather brings people indoors or the lack of humidity that dries nasal passages, making them more susceptible to infection.

College students can often be particularly susceptible to falling ill due to less than optimal sleeping and eating habits. In some cases, if it gets bad enough, it may be necessary to see a doctor for prescription medication. However, taking the appropriate preventative measures with simple techniques can save time and money.

When most people think of winter illness, they think of the flu, and for good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as 20 percent of the adult population contract the flu annually. The flu can have a range of symptoms including fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue, body aches and nausea. Severity varies, but for the most part the flu can be easily remedied at home. Warm showers, decongestants, increasing one’s intake of liquids and plenty of sleep can ease symptoms and speed up recovery.

Another potentially severe ailment is Streptococcal Pharyngitis or strep throat. Strep throat symptoms generally consist of sudden severe sore throat without coughing, sneezing or other cold symptoms. Other symptoms include pain or difficulty swallowing and swollen lymph nodes on the neck. However, presence of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate a strep throat diagnosis and is often confused with the common cold. Several other winter sicknesses include certain allergies and sinus headaches, all of which display similar symptoms. Before stopping at the local physician’s office, try adding eucalyptus or peppermint to tea, consuming foods rich in zinc, such as pork, nuts and milk, as well as getting plenty of sleep.

The best way to stay healthy and combat feeling under the weather is to stay hydrated, wash hands often and do not share personal items (such as water bottles lip balm and utensils) and get proper rest. For more information concerning winter illness, visit the university health center or go to < http://utsa.edu/health/>

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