How To Boost Your Immune System Against School-Spread Germs
August 14, 2022
The start of the school year brings lots of excitement, but it also tends to bring a host of germs into your home. With the average American child experiencing 6 to 10 colds per year, it’s no wonder that parents often find themselves on the receiving end of these same illnesses. The result: missed days of school and work.
While you can’t prevent your child from bringing home germs, it is possible to boost your immune system against school-spread germs.
What Is Your Immune System?
Your immune system is your body’s natural system of defense against illness and infection. Think of it like the moat around a castle. When your immune system is functioning properly, it prevents germs from entering the body and attacks and kills any germs that do slip through its initial line of defenses.
Your immune system is made up of a complex system of organs and cells that work together to protect you against disease, including:
- White blood cells
- Lymph nodes
- Tonsils and adenoids
- Bone marrow
- Mucous membranes
The first line of defense is your skin and the mucous membranes that protect the openings in your body, including the nose, mouth, throat, ears, genitals, and anus. These components prevent germs from entering the body and destroy any germs that might slip through the cracks.
From there, the other components of your immune system seek out, attack, and destroy any germs that may have slipped through the cracks, including bacteria and viruses.
Your immune system is also instrumental in helping you heal from cuts, scrapes, or other injuries and stopping infection before it starts. Keeping cuts and scrapes clean is critical in order to prevent germs and bacteria from finding their way into your body.
What Contributes to a Weakened Immune System?
If you notice that you seem to get sick more often than others in your life, you may have a weakened immune system. There are several key factors that contribute to the health of your immune system, including lifestyle factors, medical conditions, and medication.
Your lifestyle can have a surprisingly large effect on your immune system. Just as the other systems in your body need good nutrition, plenty of rest, and the right diet and exercise to function properly, so too does your immune system.
That’s why it is important to live a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight, limit the use of alcohol, and avoid consuming foods or substances that are not healthy.
You may notice that you’re more likely to get sick when you’re dealing with a stressful situation at work or at home. One of the most common factors contributing to a weakened immune system is stress.
Many adults find themselves feeling stressed out on a daily basis as a result of things like work obligations, financial worries, relationship issues, or other concerns. When your body experiences stress, it is less able to fight germs, and you’re more likely to get sick when your child brings home a cold from school.
An unhealthy diet and limited exercise also contribute to a weakened immune system. Your body needs the proper fuel, including plenty of vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, in order to protect against germs.
Eating a poor-quality diet or not eating enough calories can weaken your body’s defenses, making you more susceptible to getting sick. A sedentary lifestyle is also known to contribute to poor immune health.
Hygiene factors such as sharing utensils or cups with family members, failing to wash your hands regularly, or skipping vaccinations also contribute to a weakened immune system. These small actions can make a huge difference in your immune health.
Some people experience medical conditions that can cause the immune system to be compromised. Autoimmune disorders, including lupus, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause the body to attack its own cells, leading to increased susceptibility to germs.
Infections like HIV and mononucleosis (commonly referred to as mono) also cause the immune system to become compromised, as do certain types of cancer, such as myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma.
Many people do not realize that allergies are also a sign of an immune system that is not quite functioning properly. An allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system recognizes otherwise harmless substances, such as food or pollen, as foreign invaders and begins to attack them.
When your body is busy fighting off another medical condition, particularly one that is chronic, you are at increased risk of getting sick from the germs that your kids bring home from school.
Some medications can weaken your immune system intentionally or as a side effect. For example, corticosteroids are used to treat a variety of different medical conditions but are known to contribute to a weakened immune system.
Organ transplant patients take immunosuppressant drugs to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ, which also makes them more susceptible to illness. Patients undergoing chemotherapy are also considered immunocompromised and must take care to avoid exposure to germs.
What Are the Most Common School-Spread Germs?
While the common cold no doubt springs to the top of your mind as a school-spread germ, there are a number of illnesses commonly passed between students.
Unfortunately, these germs often make it back home, rendering your entire family sick in the process.
The most common school-spread germs include:
- Common cold
- Strep throat
- Stomach flu
- Hand, foot, and mouth disease
- Influenza (flu)
- Pink eye
- Mononucleosis (mono)
How Can You Boost Your Immune System Against School-Spread Germs?
Boosting your immune system against school-spread germs requires a multi-pronged approach.
In addition to focusing on your health, wellness, and hygiene, make sure you also teach your kids the importance of hygiene and living a healthy lifestyle.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to boost your immune system against school-spread germs is to ensure that both you and your child are fully vaccinated and up to date on boosters and flu shots.
Most schools require that children be vaccinated against common childhood illnesses, such as measles, mumps, and rubella, in order to attend, but some vaccines, such as the flu shot, are not mandatory.
Your child will be less likely to get sick at school and spread germs to your family if they are fully vaccinated against illnesses like the flu, COVID-19, meningitis, and other childhood diseases.
Vaccines are particularly important if any member of your family is immunocompromised or has a tendency to get sick regularly.
Add Extra Vitamins and Minerals
You may have heard about the benefits of taking larger doses of vitamins such as vitamin C to boost your immunity during cold and flu season. Vitamin C, sometimes referred to as ascorbic acid, does not stop you from getting a cold, but some evidence indicates that it may reduce the length of time that you spend sick.
Your body relies on daily intake of vitamin C to support efficient wound healing, repairing of tissues, and a host of other immune functions.
Vitamin C is commonly found in foods like strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, and more. While obtaining vitamin C through your diet is critical to maintaining a healthy immune system, you may benefit from an extra boost when you’re under the weather.
It’s possible to receive an IV treatment containing a megadose of vitamin C as well as other vitamins and electrolytes that can help support your immune system when you’re sick or feeling like you’re coming down with something.
It’s also important to eat a generally balanced diet. You may want to incorporate foods that are rich in vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, and antioxidants. Some popular foods that support a strong immune system are various veggies, sweet potatoes, and foods with healthy fats like avocados and fatty fish.
When eating a healthy diet, it’s also important to support your gut health. Gut health is closely linked to your immune health, so you can support one by supporting the other. To support your gut, you may want to eat fermented foods that are high in probiotics, like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and yogurt.
When it comes to healthy eating, the professional advice of a registered dietitian can help. Sometimes it’s hard to get all of your vitamins through diet alone, so your dietitian may recommend some dietary supplements to help support your immune system.
Practice Good Hygiene
Let’s face it: kids aren’t always the best when it comes to practicing good hygiene. Teaching your child from an early age how to wash their hands properly (including using soap and water for 20 seconds, or the length of the “happy birthday” song) can go a long way toward reducing the number of germs they contract.
This in turn can affect how often you and your family get sick. Teach your kids social distancing and to avoid sharing things like utensils, cups, and other items that have the potential to carry germs. These items include pencils, pens, and scissors at school.
At home, you can protect yourself by regularly washing your hands and wiping down common surfaces such as door knobs, faucets, and countertops with disinfectant, particularly if a family member is sick. These small measures will go a long way towards cutting down on the number of germs in your home and can help minimize your risk of getting sick.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Physical activity is critical to a healthy body and mind, but it’s also vital to your immune system. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to go for a run every day.
Studies show that moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, is actually best for boosting your immune system. Incorporating moderate exercise into your weekly schedule most days of the week will help strengthen your immune system.
Just a little bit of exercise could make you less susceptible to illness.
Reduce Stress Levels
Whether you are experiencing mental or emotional stress due to circumstances at work or home or you’re experiencing physical stress brought on by a medical condition, high levels of stress are known to prevent your immune system from working properly.
Regardless of what type of stress you experience, your body releases a hormone called cortisol in response. Cortisol lowers the number of lymphocytes (white blood cells that fight off infection) in your body, effectively weakening your immune response.
Try and reduce stress where possible in order to minimize your risk of getting sick. Use mindfulness techniques to help stay centered during high-stress situations.
Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do to boost your immune system. When you’re dehydrated, your body produces less saliva and less of a substance called salivary immunoglobulin, which are among your body’s first lines of defense against infection.
Similarly, dehydration can reduce the effectiveness of mucus membranes that line the body’s opening, potentially making you more susceptible to germs. Drinking water throughout the day is the best way to stay hydrated on a daily basis, but sometimes, it helps to have a boost.
IV treatments for dehydration are an easy way to increase your hydration levels after a long night out, spending time outdoors in the sun, or simply falling behind on your water intake.
The Bottom Line
The start of the school year brings with it new germs and plenty of colds, but it is possible to boost your immune system and limit the amount of time you spend sick.
Some ways to protect against illness are to get vaccinated, practice good hygiene, stay hydrated, live a healthy lifestyle, and get an extra boost of vitamins and minerals when you need them.
Make sure to teach your children how to wash their hands properly and avoid spreading germs while in school. The healthier your kids are, the less likely you are to experience downtime from illness.
Regular Exercise Enhances the Immune Response Against Microbial Antigens Through Up-Regulation of Toll-like Receptor Signaling Pathways | Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry 2015, Vol. 37, No. 2 - Karger Publishers