Back-To-School and Cold Season: A Bad Combination

Back-To-School and Cold Season: A Bad Combination  


Michael Garko, Ph.D.

Syndicated Host and Producer of Let’s Talk Nutrition

Contracting a cold is one of the most serious health threats to students. Unfortunately, back-to-school marks the beginning of the cold season followed by the flu season. In the United States, cold season begins during late August, early September and lasts until March or April, while flu season typically begins around October and lasts until about March.

While the timing of back-to-school with the cold season is not good, there are diet and lifestyle strategies that can help students stay healthy upon returning to school and throughout the school year. The August, 2016, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly focuses on what students (along with their parents and teachers) need to know and do about cold season. Particular emphasis will be put on diet-, lifestyle- and dietary supplementation-related strategies to help students be healthy and well, on their return to school and during the cold season.

It is important that parents (especially those of young children) be healthy for the start of back-to-school and the entire school year. Hence, what is discussed in this article is relevant for parents as well. Further, it recommended that parents and teachers share the information contained in the article with children who might be too young to read and understand the piece.

Important Facts About Colds

What Is A Cold

A cold is a contagious respiratory illnesses caused by viruses infecting the sinuses, throat or lungs. There are more than 200 different viruses causing the common cold and its symptoms. Allergic diseases affecting the respiratory tract (i.e., nose or throat) and chronic stress can also increase the likelihood of becoming infected with a cold virus. Some believe that enlarged tonsils or adenoids, exposure to cold weather or getting chilled or overheated increase the chances of getting a cold or flu. However, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) there is no evidence to support these beliefs (see NIAID, 2007).

How Cold Viruses Are Spread

Cold viruses can be spread from person-to-person when an infected person coughs or sneezes transmitting the virus into the air in the form of an infectious aerosol or large droplets loaded with germs, which then enter the body through the nose or mouth. However, direct contact with infectious secretions through touching contaminated environmental surfaces such as telephones, door knobs, hand rails, table tops and clothing (i.e., fomites – inanimate objects or substances capable of transmitting infectious microbes from one person to another) and then putting your hands to your nose or mouth will transmit a cold or flu virus. The risk of getting a cold increases when students find themselves in crowded areas such as the classroom.

Symptoms of A Cold

Generally speaking, the symptoms of the common cold are milder than those of the flu. Also, colds are less likely to cause serious health consequences such dying, being hospitalized or suffering from dehydration, bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and a worsening of chronic medical conditions (see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007).

While it may not be as severe as the flu, the common cold can create a lot of discomfort for students and be quite distracting. Symptoms of the common cold usually begin 2 to 3 days after infection and often include:


To help distinguish it from the flu, the following are among the most common flu symptoms:

  • Fever (usually high) and chills
  • Headache
  • Fatigue/tiredness (often extreme)
  • Coughing (dry cough)
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion (i.e., runny or stuffy nose)
  • Muscle aches and pains (frequently intense)
  • Stomach symptoms (e.g., nausea, vomiting & diarrhea) can occur but tend to affect children more than adults (see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007)

Best Defense Against A Cold

Since there is no cure for it, the best defense against the cold is to practice prevention by keeping the immune system in tip top condition. The immune system is the sentinel of the body. It protects the body against viral invasions so long as things are done to keep it vital and vigilant against cold and flu viruses. Eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fiber, nuts, seeds and legumes, getting adequate sleep and rest, staying physically active (see Garko, 2008a, 2008b & 2008c on importance of physical exercise and how to use nutrition to support it), drinking plenty of water, go a long way in keeping the immune system healthy. It is also a good idea to supplement students’ diets with a full spectrum multiple vitamin and mineral, vitamin D, vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil and probiotics.

In addition, students can follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009) to protect themselves and others from becoming infected with a cold or flu virus:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners* are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
  • Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious (p. 1).


While it is a time filled with hope, a sense of a fresh start, a desire to do well and become a better student, back-to-school can be a stressful time impairing students’ immune system and, thereby, putting them at greater risk to experience a cold and missed days at school. The best defense against a cold would be for students to eat a healthy diet as described above, engage in regular physical exercise, get the necessary sleep and rest to rejuvenate their immune system, stay properly hydrated, take those supplements to help keep their nutritional status up to par and practice the recommendations from CDC to help prevent from becoming infected and infecting others.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Questions & answers: Novel H1N1 (Swine flu) and you. Retrieved August, 15, 2009, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Questions and answers: Cold versus flu. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from

Garko, M. G. (2008a). Keep the body moving – Part I:
It’s all about the energy. Healthful Hints. February.

Garko, M.G. (2008b). Keep the Body Moving –Part II: Dietary and nutritional principles and practices to energize and maximize physical activity. Healthful Hints, March.

Garko, M.G. (2008c). Keep the Body Moving – Part III: Dietary supplements to help energize and maximize physical activity. Healthful Hints. April.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (n.d.). Common cold. Retrieved September 20, 2007 from

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2016, August).  Back-to-school and cold Season: A bad combination. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from