20 Things You Should Never Do If You Think You're Getting Sick
Drinking, skipping sleep, and going to work are all things you should avoid when you're getting sick.
When you feel under the weather, the only thing you want to do is retreat into bed with junk food, some tissues, and Netflix. However, this isn't exactly the best course of action—at least, not if you want to stop your sickness in its tracks. Yes, unfortunately, eating fatty comfort foods and sitting in bed surrounded by your own germs could actually make your illness worse. Here is what not to do when you think you're getting sick, according to the experts.
Overdo it on the vitamin C
Though vitamin C does support the immune system, there is such a thing as consuming too much. Since your body isn't capable of storing this nutrient, taking in too much of it can cause adverse side effects. In fact, one 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who increased their vitamin C intake too much were twice as likely to have kidney stones. Definitely stock up on OJ—just don't overdo it.
Unfortunately, if you think you're coming down with something, you're going to want to limit your alcohol intake. According to Carolyn Dean, MD, co-author of The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women's Health, alcohol "requires the mineral magnesium in order to be metabolized," so drinking it "makes insulin surge and depletes the immune-boosting mineral."
Stop monitoring your water intake
Staying hydrated is essential when the body is fighting off an infection. Unfortunately, though, in the quest for hydration, not all fluids are created equal.
"There is no specific fluid best to maintain adequate hydration, other than clean water," says David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in California. "Soft drinks, fruit juices, and other sugar-sweetened beverages are never a good idea. In the end, simply maintaining adequate hydration [with water] is the key to recovery."
Consume copious amounts of refined sugar
Like alcohol, refined sugars use up your body's magnesium supply, taking it away from your immune system. The blood sugar spikes they cause also "slow down white blood cells, which are involved in fighting infections," as Maple Holistics health and wellness expert Bonnie Balk explains.
Stop eating fruits and veggies
When you're feeling sick, you might crave comfort food like chips and cookies. However, you should make a conscious effort to include fruits and vegetables in your diet during this time. Dark green leafy vegetables, red and yellow veggies, and fruits of all varieties are especially good to keep in the rotation; osteopathic physician Lisa Ballehr explains that they contain "antioxidant phytochemicals to fight off the virus."
Eat dairy products
There are several reasons why you should avoid dairy when you think you're getting sick. "During intestinal illnesses like stomach viruses, food poisoning, or traveler's diarrhea, your intestine often loses the ability to digest lactose," explains Cutler. "Ingesting lactose in milk, yogurt, cheese, or ice cream could aggravate your diarrhea."
Even if you aren't dealing with digestive issues, you should still lay off the dairy until you're feeling better. "High fat foods can be difficult to digest when you are ill," Cutler explains, "so avoiding red meat, fried foods, and dairy products with fat is a good idea when you don't feel well."
Take intense workout classes
"Illness is not an ideal circumstance to ramp up exercise," says Jordan P. Seda, PT, an orthopedic clinical specialist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. "A compromised immune system leaves the body feeling weaker and changes electrolyte balances, thus increasing injury risk."
However, this isn't to say that you can't work out at all when you're under the weather. Seda recommends "scaling back on exercise in general" and monitoring how you feel as you go. Listen to your body and "make adjustments in volume as you see fit," he says.
If you can help it, try not to smoke when you think you're coming down with something. One notable 1993 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that compared to non-smokers, smokers were more likely to fall ill following exposure to the cold virus.
Let your stress levels go unchecked
Don't let your mental health fall by the wayside once your physical health starts to deteriorate. As one 2016 paper published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology notes, "psychological stress has been implicated in altered immune functioning in many diseases." Another 2013 study conducted by researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong found that older individuals with chronic stress had a weaker immune response to the flu than those who were relatively stress-free.
Skimp on sleep
Sleep is more important than ever when you're fighting off an infection. When researchers from UW Medicine took blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins, they found that those who slept less has weaker immune systems. "What we show is that the immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep," lead study author Nathaniel Watson, co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center, said in a press release.
Take more medicine than you're supposed to
It is very possible to overdose on common cold and flu medications. As Susan Farrell, MD, program director at Partners Healthcare International, explains on Harvard Medical School's blog, many over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and NyQuil contain acetaminophen, which, if taken in excess, can damage and even destroy the liver. Be careful to only take as much medicine as you're supposed to!
Take unprescribed antibiotics
Don't take antibiotics unless they are prescribed to you. You might think that you're helping your body heal, but if you have a cold, then those antibiotics aren't actually going to do anything. Why? Antibiotics fight off bacteria, and the common cold is caused by a virus.
What's more, taking antibiotics in excess contributes to the rise of antibiotic resistance. Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection—and those can be life-threatening.
Overuse decongestant spray
When your nose is stuffy and you feel like you can't breathe, decongestant sprays like Afrin are a godsend. However, the experts over at WebMD warn against overusing these apparent miracle cures. "If you use them for more than three days, your stuffy nose will get worse when you stop," they explain.
Blow your nose too hard
Take care to blow your nose softly and safely when you're starting to come down with a cold. As a pivotal 2000 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases notes, blowing your nose with too much force can actually propel mucus into your sinuses and trigger a sinus infection.
Spend all day out and about
"If you think you might be getting sick, staying at home and resting is by far the most efficient way to get healthy," says Jocelyn Nadua, a registered practical nurse and care coordinator at C-Care Health Services. Your friends will understand if you cancel plans to rest up and recuperate.
Try not to travel when you think you're coming down with something. Not only is this better for your health, but a 2018 study on the spread of germs on airplanes published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that when you sit next to someone on a plane who's sick, your chances of catching what they have are about 80 percent. Do yourself and your fellow passengers a favor and just postpone your trip.
Go to work
If you think you're getting sick, then you should stay home from work—both for your sake and for the sake of others. According to the CDC, a person sick with the flu can infect anyone within a six-foot radius simply by coughing or sneezing. Until you're 100 percent sure that what you have isn't contagious, just stay home and rest up—alone.
Use public transportation
Similarly, if you think you're getting sick, try not to use public transportation. For a 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Health, British researchers studied the spread of infections in London and found that commuters who spend more time on public transit are at a higher risk of getting sick. Avoiding public transit when you're sick will both ensure that you don't catch anything else, and that you don't infect others.
Not wash your hands
When you feel under the weather, wash your hands as often as possible. According to the UK's National Health Service (NHS), approximately 40 percent of all rhinovirus strains—which cause the common cold—remain infectious on hands after an hour. Flu viruses have a much shorter lifespan on hands—about 15 minutes—but you should still wash up to avoid infecting anyone else (or even accidentally transferring the virus to other surfaces in your home).
Touch your face
When you feel sick, "avoiding touching your face without first washing your hands," says Ballehr. Every time you touch your face, you risk transferring new germs from your hands to your mouth and making yourself even sicker.