Despite best efforts, many Canadians will fall ill over the coming months. Colds come on gradually over a few days and symptoms are often milder than flu symptoms. They usually get better within a week or so.

Flu symptoms, in contrast, develop very quickly, are more severe, and typically last one to two weeks. But don’t despair: here are six easy and effective expert-recommended tips to get you through a sore throat, annoying cough, or congested head.


Ensuring you get enough fluids is always important for optimal health, but when you’re sick it becomes even more essential. Drinking water, eating juicy fruits such as melons and citrus fruits, and eating chicken soup will help keep you hydrated and replace the electrolytes your body loses from excess mucus production. Abby Langer, one of Canada’s leading dieticians, suggests drinking at least a litre of water every day, and paying extra attention to this in the wintertime, when the dry weather can make us feel less thirsty. Langer adds that coffee and tea can count as replenishing liquids.


A lozenge is one of the best things to help calm a cough, ease congestion, and soothe a sore throat. “I like Fisherman’s Friend,” says Langer. “They’ve been around since the 1860s and are strong and effective, with sugar-free options. They also contain menthol and eucalyptus, which have great healing properties.” Honey can also help to soothe a sore throat, but make sure to get it raw. Langer suggests manuka honey in particular, which has anti-bacterial properties and can be purchased at health food stores.


You already know that vegetables are good for you, and there’s no better time to dig in. Eating brightly coloured fruits and vegetables while avoiding processed foods that are high in sugars and saturated fats will moderate your immune system, keeping up your body’s natural defense against cold- and flu-causing bacteria to prevent illness. Eating healthy will also speed recovery.


Our dietary fibre feeds and supports friendly bacteria living in our gut. This is essential for the proper development of our immune system, optimal digestion, and the prevention of chronic diseases. “We are learning that probiotics (healthy bacteria) can help reduce the risk of colds and flu,” says Dragana Skokovic-Sunjic, a clinical pharmacist. These friendly bacteria can be found in fermented foods and yogurts, but despite marketing claims, Skokovic-Sunjic notes that due to the way food is produced commercially in Canada, we have few foods available that provide sufficient amounts of friendly bacteria to be considered probiotic. Instead, you should get probiotics as a supplement, which can be obtained without prescription at a pharmacy or grocery store.


According to Skokovic-Sunjic, most Canadians would benefit from getting a flu vaccine. It takes about two weeks to develop proper immunity after getting the flu shot, so don’t wait too long to see your doctor or pharmacist to get immunized. It’s also recommended that some individuals with higher risk, such as the elderly, consider vaccination against pneumonia.


There is no substitute for rest. If you do get sick, one of the best things you can do is stay home and sleep. Allowing your body to fight the cold or flu by getting enough rest, ensuring proper hydration, and treating symptoms, if bothersome, is the best we can do when we get sick. Staying at home also prevents the spread of infection at schools and in the workplace, and will result in increased productivity in the long run — so don’t be afraid to take a day when you need it!