Dark mornings and evenings, lengthy commutes, busy lives and winter bugs can all leave us feeling less than tip-top this time of year.

That's why it’s so important to look after your health as we head into winter.

As the seasons change the cold weather begins to creep in, people begin to be struck by sneezing, coughing, colds and flu as our immune systems take a hit. Arming yourself with the right knowledge can help you avoid the worst of winter's bugs. We spoke to Boots pharmacist Donal O'Sullivan about his top tips for staying healthy this winter. 

Donal advises the best way to ensure you steer clear of too many winter ailments is by trying to have a healthy, balanced diet. Foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges, broccoli and tomatoes can help boost immunity.

Cold weather means winter bugs. Pic: Stock

Bear in mind also, that in the dark winter months, we’re not getting as much sunshine as we’d like or need. Donal suggests that some people may benefit from taking a Vitamin D supplement over winter as it regulates calcium in the body.

'We know that calcium is good for bones and teeth but what happens in the winter time is that it’s hard to get as much Vitamin D as you need do to the lack of sunshine,' he said.

'So your doctor can do a blood test and they may recommend you take a Vitamin D supplement.'

Donal adds that before you buy any medicines or supplements it’s very important that you let your pharmacist know if you’ve any medical conditions, or if you’re taking other medicines or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Here’s some of the most comment ailments we come up against at winter and how best you can tackle them...

A healthy diet is one of the best ways to boost immunity. Pic: Stock

The common cold

Ah yes, the dreaded common cold. If you’re any way run-down you can be sure this one is going to hit you like a steam train. We all know the symptoms; blocked or runny nose, sore throat, headaches, sneezing, coughing and generally just feeling pretty dreadful.

What can help: Rest and sleep, keeping warm, drinking plenty of water so you don’t dehydrate, gargling salt water to soothe a sore throat, taking your vitamins to support your immune system and don’t forget to wash your hands regularly to avoid spreading germs. Donal says: 'A good balanced diet and hydration are really important. The problem is it’s a viral infection so antibiotics can’t kill it. If you’ve a pain in your chest, difficulty breathing, a high temperature or the symptoms last longer than three weeks they you need to see your doctor.'

The dreaded cold is hard to avoid in winter. Pic: Stock

Norovirus (winter vomiting bug)

Norovirus is the winter vomiting bug and can be an extremely infectious. It can strike all year round but is more common in winter. Shockingly, Donal says that you can have up to twenty thousand cases a week in Ireland of this nasty stomach bug. 

What can help: While this is unpleasant it’s usually over within a few days. There is no specific way to treat this as you have to let the illness run its course. Some ways to help this are: Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, Paracetamol for aches and pains, eat foods that are easy to digest such as soup, rice, pasta and bread.

Then stay at home to reduce the risk of passing the virus on for at least 48 hours after your last symptom. 'Cleaning and disinfecting your home after someone has had the Norovirus is so important as it can live on surfaces for up week if not longer,' adds Donal.

The norovirus will have you laid up in bed for days. Pic: Stock

Dry skin

Dry skin is a common condition but can be worse during the winter when the environmental humidity is low and we have the heat cranked high.

What can help: Moisturising is key in the winter to stop the skin’s natural moisture evaporating. The best time to apply this is after a bath or shower when your skin is still moist. You can also keep a small tube in your bag or on your desk to top up your hands throughout the day.

Dry skin can be an uncomfortable winter condition. Pic: Stock

Painful joints

Many of those with arthritis believe their joints become more painful and stiff in the winter months although there is no clear evidence as to why.

What can help: Keeping active everyday can boost your physical state. Swimming can be easier on the joints so is a good exercise for when they are feeling stiff.

For more information on keeping well over winter visit www.boots.ie.

By Janice Butler