Flu season starts annually in late autumn. Many factors contribute to this and may also explain why some areas are harder hit than others. For example, when the days are shorter, we spend more time indoors, regardless of the temperature. That means more time spent with the windows closed and the same air recirculating throughout the home or business, giving any nearby viruses a free ride to their next victim. In most areas of the country, the winter months also bring colder, drier air, which creates challenges for the respiratory system.
Cold? Flu? or Something Else?
If you are unfortunate enough to become ill this winter, the first step is to find out what you have. The common cold, which can be caused by any of 200 or more different viruses, generally starts with a sore throat and that I-think-I-am-getting-sick feeling.
During those first days when you are trying to convince yourself you aren’t sick enough to stay home from work, you are actually quite contagious. The first three days would be the best time to stay home. Colds generally peak quickly, and then get better each day, with final resolution taking about 7–10 days. In this time frame, you would likely have congestion, a cough, a headache, and maybe even a low-grade fever.
Although a cold may feel like a serious illness, unless you have a severely impaired immune system you just need to be patient and treat the symptoms. One of the misconceptions about a cold is that if your mucous gets thicker and darker, the cold has turned into an infection. In fact, that is generally not the case.
The keys to a speedy recovery from a cold are to get lots of rest, plenty of fluids, and good nutrition. Over-the-counter remedies can be very helpful in allowing you to get through the day and sleep at night, but always read the labels, especially if you have other health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure. A pharmacist can generally point you in the right direction.
The flu (influenza) is a much more serious illness. It affects 5–20 percent of Americans every year and hospitalizes more than 30,000. Although immunizations are readily available and quite reliable, only about half of Americans get a flu shot in any given year. In a high-contact profession like esthetics, protecting yourself from an illness that could put you out of action for more than a week is worthwhile, and getting this year’s flu shot only takes a few minutes at your local drugstore.
During those first days when you are trying to convince yourself you aren’t sick enough to stay home from work, you are actually quite contagious. The first three days would be the best time to stay home.
Although the initial feeling is similar to the common cold, flu symptoms come on much more quickly and are much more severe. They commonly include:
- Body aches, particularly in joints and around the eyes.
- Dry cough.
- Fever (often high).
- Sore throat.
Influenza does not cause diarrhea, stomachaches, or vomiting. What is often called “stomach flu” is really not the flu at all, but a completely different virus.
Recognizing flu symptoms is important, because the few available antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, are only effective when taken in the first 24 hours after symptoms begin. These medications will not cure the flu, but will greatly reduce its intensity and may get you back on your feet a few days sooner. And, if you are living with a chronic illness of any type, it is important to seek medical attention if you believe you have the flu. It can be an extremely serious disease for those whose health is already compromised.
Prevention is key
Regardless of whether the threat is a simple cold or the flu, there are several things you can do to protect yourself and your business from unnecessary downtime.
PROPER HAND WASHING
This simple act gets top billing because of its true effectiveness in preventing illness. The most important aspects of hand washing are the length of time (at least 30 seconds) and the amount of friction you use, not the water temperature. In fact, warm water is better than hot, as hot water dries the skin, leaving more microscopic openings on its surface. In cases where hand washing is not practical, keep hand sanitizer available. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also contribute to drying of the skin, so be diligent about moisturizing.
Have you had all your shots? The most underimmunized group in America is women aged 30–55. Check with your physician to make sure you are up to date on everything from influenza to tetanus.
FLUIDS AND MORE FLUIDS
Estheticians almost always encourage clients to hydrate before, during, and after services, but are we good role models? Staying well hydrated clearly benefits our skin, the largest organ of our immune system. The advice to stay adequately hydrated is even more important in the cold, dry months of winter.
Paying attention to what goes into your body is second nature when you discuss it with your clients, but again, make sure you follow your own advice. A balanced diet that includes all food groups gives your immune system the resources it needs when it faces a challenge like the flu.
EIGHT HOURS OF SLEEP
With the demands of life, making time for eight hours of sleep every night often seems difficult. However, research continues to prove how vital this is to every part of our well-being. It affects everything, from our ability to resist illness to keeping our weight in line, so maintaining an adequate sleep schedule should be a top priority.
HANDS AND FACE
You already know how many bugs are spread by touching others, and given your profession, it’s hard to minimize the number of times you touch another person’s face or hands. It is perhaps even more important to stop touching your own face—particularly the eyes, mouth, and nose, which are the favorite points of entry for viruses. Start paying attention to how frequently you touch your face, and you might be shocked. It will take practice and attention to break the habit, but doing so will reduce your risk of colds and flu this season by more than 50 percent.
The practice of esthetics requires that we perform proper disinfection on the implements we use. During cold and flu season, consider expanding this to items you might not normally disinfect, such as doorknobs, hard furniture, and the telephone. When used properly, disinfectants are very effective, and a few extra minutes might mean the difference between a week in bed and a healthy winter.
YOUR CANCELLATION POLICY
While we all understand that time is money, and a last-minute cancellation can take a bite out of the paycheck, weigh the benefits of allowing clients to cancel without penalty if the reason is sickness. This is better than having a sick client pass germs along to other clients and professionals in your workplace, or missing a week of work yourself. Of course, some clients might abuse this policy, but the majority will not. With the quick onset of flu symptoms, most people literally go to bed fine and wake up sick, and will not always be able to give you the expected amount of notice to cancel their appointment. While all of these tips are written to help prevent illness during the winter, incorporating them into your daily life is good for every season. Make this flu season all about avoidance so that you can help your clients stay vibrant all through the winter, and also become a walking role model yourself.