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Ahhh-Choo! How To Avoid
Getting A Job-Killer COLD

By Mike Harrison
Voice Actor     

No lie: It's been over two years since my last cold.
But because I've just come down with one, I thought it would be a good time to share the research I did a couple of years ago.
This is not guesswork or speculation. My information was compiled from the websites of the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and of various universities, hospitals, health practitioners and respective product manufacturers.
These are preventive measures; no guarantee is implied, and individual results may vary.
What happens if you've been booked for a job and then come down with a cold before the session?
"Don't get sick" is what many of us have heard in response to that question.
Well, we mere mortals simply don't have control over such things. But there are at least two lines of defense we can employ to avoid or delay catching a cold.
The first is to teach ourselves not to touch or rub our eyes, nose or mouth with our bare fingers - until we can put into play the second defense: a thorough hand washing.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health), cold viruses can infect us when we:
  1. touch our skin or environmental surfaces that have cold germs on them and then touch our eyes, nose or mouth, and
  2. inhale microscopic droplets of mucus full of cold germs from the air. 
Because it's practically impossible to avoid breathing in germs without walking around wearing a surgical mask, this article will deal with the issue of contact.
We don't realize we're doing it, but we all wind up touching or rubbing our eyes, nose and/or mouth at some point during the day.
But consider all the other things that we touch and handle, things that have already been touched and handled by others - even young children who wipe their runny noses with their hands:
  • telephones,
  • stair rails,
  • pull-and-push handles on the doors of the various places we regularly visit,
  • shopping carts and hand baskets of supermarkets and other stores,
  • countertops,
  • money (bills and coins),
  • push-buttons on ATMs and other devices,
  • products on store shelves,
  • books and other items at a library,
  • equipment at a gym.
There are so many more, it's hard to keep track. Think especially about money and how many hands any given bill or coin must have passed through before getting to ours.
And then there are the germs the kids bring home from school each day from the things they have touched and handled.
Here's an extremely typical scenario: We're at a networking event where we expect to meet a lot of people.
The odds are pretty good that any number of these folks may have within the past couple of hours covered their mouth with their hand as they coughed or sneezed.
And, upon meeting them, we'll undoubtedly shake their hands.

But because we can't run to the restroom to wash our hands after every handshake it's important to teach ourselves to stay away from our eyes, nose and mouth until we can.
There are several brands of sanitizing lotion and wipes we can use between washings. A note, though: the manufacturers recommend against keeping these in cars because during warmer months vehicle interiors can get so hot that it reduces the efficacy of those products.
The best ways to prevent spreading germs when coughing or sneezing is to cough and sneeze into a tissue or napkin, and then throw it - and the germs - away.
Or, if no tissue or napkin is available, we can bring our arm to our face so that the inside of the elbow covers the mouth, and then sneeze or cough into the sleeve. The germs will eventually die there.
A good soapy lather is required to wash hands thoroughly.

Then, for at least 20 seconds (roughly two verses of "Happy Birthday"), rub your hands all over, and also each finger, especially the fingertips.
Twenty seconds goes by quickly enough, but be thorough or the time spent is wasted.
Then, make sure to rinse your hands until the water runs clear.

Those who simply run some water and quickly rinse their hands without using any soap may as well not even bother, because that does nothing more than spread the germs a little further over their hands.
We have met the enemy and it is the public restroom.

Fact: the object with the highest concentration of germs is the inside door handle of a public or office restroom. The restroom fixtures run a close second.
This is because so many people do not wash their hands correctly or at all.
When using a public restroom, first check before washing your hands if you can get a paper towel without having to touch anything, such as a crank or lever, etc.
If this isn't possible, get your towel(s) first and stick them in your pocket. Then, wash your hands.
But don't turn off the water until after you've dried your hands. Then turn off the water with the towel in your hand.
Use the same method again to open the door on your way out. If you can hold the door open with your elbow or foot while you toss the towel to a nearby wastebasket, do so.
Otherwise throw the towel away after you've left the restroom.
Disinfecting cannot be done as quickly as shown on TV.

For those who use Lysol® or other such spray to disinfect surfaces around the house, you should know that true disinfecting is not accomplished as quickly as it appears to be in TV spots.
According to the instructions on the label, to properly disinfect a surface, it must be sprayed until it is thoroughly wet. And it must remain wet for at least 10 minutes and allowed to air-dry on its own - without fanning or blowing - before it can be considered disinfected.
Don't be fooled. It is not just a quick shot of spray and you're good to go.
Also realize that disinfectant sprays are not meant to clean the air.

While they may make things smell nice for a few minutes, the mist of spray disinfectants is too heavy to mingle with the air and will fall immediately to the floor, thereby wasting the product.
So you've caught a cold. Now what?
I prefer attempting to avoid a cold rather than to treat it because too many medications have side effects I could do without.
For example, decongestants may work very well, but they can also cause dryness of the mouth, throat, and vocal cords - the very things we as voice talent need to keep hydrated.
Always read the information panels on medication packaging to determine if there might be harmful side effects or interactions with other meds you may be taking.
Beware of the risks of vitamin C supplements.
Many folks treat their colds by taking mega-doses of vitamin C supplements. Here's what you should know: Our bodies do not produce vitamin C; we need to obtain it from foods.
And there is nothing wrong with consuming higher than "normal" amounts of naturally occurring vitamin C (that which is found in foods) because that type of the vitamin possesses antioxidant properties - a good thing.
At a certain point, however, excessive amounts of the vitamin are flushed from the body.
But taking large doses (more than 500 milligrams) of vitamin C supplements - either the tasty chewable or other tablet or pill form - can have pro-oxidant effects.
This, according to the findings of a professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, "mobilizes harmless ferric iron stored in the body and converts it to harmful ferrous iron, which induces damage to the heart and other organs.''
This was recently corroborated by British researchers.
Other folks prefer to treat their colds using the various zinc-based formulations, such as Cold-Eze®. I haven't had good luck with them.
In summary, second nature doesn't mean obsession - whether or not your livelihood relies on your not catching a cold.

Keeping your fingers away from your eyes, nose and mouth, and washing your hands correctly can easily become second nature if you really want them to.
Just like remembering to bring your cell phone, it is especially important for voice talent who wish to avoid colds simply because there are so many others who do not exercise this care.
And you will notice a difference after some months go by. The typical disclaimer holds true, however. Results may vary.
Of course, trying to eat right, being adequately hydrated, and getting enough rest is important, too.
Many of our computers have firewalls. By instituting a firewall strategy to prevent germs from entering our bodies, we can stay well longer and medicate less.


Mike Harrison has, since 1973, been writing, voicing and producing radio commercials, plus narrating and/or producing audio tracks for many Fortune 500 corporate and industrial clients. He was a two-time co-finalist for copy and production in the 1985 International Radio Festival of New York, and his voice is currently heard in various markets across the U.S. as well as the United Kingdom. He is a member of SaVoa, Media Communications Association-International, and the e-Learning Guild.


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Comments (5)
Mike Harrison
12/13/2011 at 11:50 PM
Thanks for all the comments. But, Roy, you are misinformed: a flu shot will NOT protect against a common cold. A direct quote from the website of the Centers for Disease Control:

"Influenza vaccines protect against infection and illness caused by the three influenza viruses in the vaccine that research indicates will be most common this season. Flu vaccines will NOT protect against infection and illness caused by other viruses that can also cause influenza-like symptoms. There are many other viruses besides influenza that can result in influenza-like illness* (ILI) that spread during the flu season."
Peter Katt
12/7/2011 at 2:04 PM
I recommend trying a neti pot, which is a way to rinse your nasal passages with a saline solution. Since you breathe in germs and dust (much of which are filtered out by getting caught in the fine hairs in the nasal passages), rinsing them out every day helps to keep the germs from infecting you. After starting to do this a couple of years ago, I've had many fewer serious colds.

I use an inexpensive, plastic pot -- it's lighter in weight than a ceramic one, and I use regular non-iodized table salt to make the saline solution (1/2 tsp per pint of tap water). If it's pure enough to eat, it's pure enough to rinse with, I figure.
Paul J. Warwick
12/7/2011 at 10:50 AM
Wow! Good advice! But gave me chills just reading it!
Debbie Grattan
12/7/2011 at 10:20 AM
Indeed, I practice all of these things and more, and my kids get tired of me telling them, too. It helps as a VO pro, that I work from home, so have more control over my personal environment. I also like Olive Leaf products (Seagate makes some) which is a natural antibiotic. I use throat spray - a very pleasant raspberry spearmint flavor, nose spray and ear drops, to keep the areas where germs enter the body more protected. Airborne is something I also use on occasion (though I had to actually get up from my desk to go look to remember the name, it's been so long!) when I feel run down, or expect to be around crowds of germ filled folks. I also think Juice Plus is a nice daily defense. Above all, having an attitude of wellness can be most effective.
Roy Wells
12/7/2011 at 9:07 AM
Good complete article Mike, except for one little thing. GET A FLU SHOT!! This once a year vaccination will either drastically minimize the effects of a cold, or prevent catching one totally.
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