Respiratory infections tend to take hold more frequently in the winter. Whether it’s because these pathogens spread easily in cold, dry conditions or because we stay indoors and near other people, resulting infections like the common cold or flu can make you feel miserable for weeks. Fortunately, you can take easy steps to stay healthy. Here are four ways to avoid respiratory infections this winter.

Keep Dust at Bay

Dust and other fine particles can prevent your lungs and respiratory system from doing their job properly, putting you at greater risk of infection. Thus, keep your house as clean and dust-free as possible. Do so by cleaning all surfaces regularly, vacuuming (at least once a week) instead of sweeping floors, changing your bedding weekly, and replacing your HVAC filter at least once a month — particularly if you have pets or allergies. You might also consider placing air purifiers in common areas to collect dust particulates.

Maintain Your HVAC System

Substances such as mold can also irritate your lungs and impair your respiratory defenses. Mold can build up in ductwork due to excess moisture. If your air vents smell musty and you’re experiencing respiratory issues, have an HVAC professional assess and clean or repair your ducts. The best solution is prevention, however — keep up with regular HVAC maintenance and service to prevent mold from setting up shop in your ducts in the first place.

Practice Good Hand Hygiene

Practice Good Hand Hygiene

Image via Flickr by aka Kath

Because many respiratory infections are transmitted from hand to mouth, nose, or eye, one of the simplest ways to avoid getting sick is to wash your hands regularly. Hand-washing can lower your chances of catching a cold by around 45 percent. Important times to do so include after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose; before eating or preparing food; after coming in contact with a sick person; and after using the restroom.

To wash your hands effectively, rub them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, being sure to lather over every surface, between fingers, and under nails. Rinse thoroughly, and dry your hands with either a paper towel or dryer. If soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizer can also be effective.

Rest Up

Lastly, if you feel any signs of a respiratory infection coming on, stay home and get some rest. This will help you not only recover faster but also avoid spreading your illness to others. Signs of an early respiratory issue might include a runny nose, sore throat, coughing, sneezing, headache, fatigue, and more. To ward off the worst of the symptoms, stay well-hydrated, gargle with salt water to soothe a sore throat, and install a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to your indoor air. These tips, among others, will you help you recover quicker while resting.

Don’t leave your respiratory health to chance this winter. The coldest times of the year are when you’re most at risk of infection. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, and follow these practical steps to avoid catching a cold or the flu.