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We're now entering full-blown flu season, with influenza activity peaking between December and February. Along with the seasonal flu, the common cold spreads more easily during the winter and spring. Pair this with the ongoing fight against COVID-19—which experts warn could make for a harsh winter and another wave of infections—and your average cold and flu season just got a little bit more complicated. While flu cases were at an all-time low last season, it's important to head caution this year as the U.S. enters a more "normalized" holiday season with presumably more social gatherings.
With the ongoing presence of COVID-19, feeling sick can induce feelings of anxiety over what sickness you may have (this fact sheet from the CDC can help). COVID-19 can often present similar symptoms to the flu and the common cold such as fever, cough, muscle or body aches and tiredness. For this reason, if you're feeling sick, it's best to follow CDC guidelines and get tested if you have been or suspect you've been exposed to COVID-19.
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If you haven't already, now is the time to buy cold and flu supplies in case you or someone in your close circle gets sick. Here are 20 essentials that'll help soothe symptoms and keep others safe if you happen to get sick this winter.
1. A thermometer to monitor your fever
During cold and flu season, it can be hard to gauge how sick you really are—or what you have. A thermometer can help you there. This thermometer by iHealth has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon out of thousands and thousands of reviews. It's a no-touch forehead thermometer fit for adults and children (even babies) alike, which is why reviewers like it so much. If you want a classic oral thermometer, this one by Femometer is highly rated because of its reliability, ease of use, and lower price tag.
2. A humidifier to help ease your symptoms
Cold, dry weather and blustery winds in the winter can suck all the moisture from your skin, lips, and sinuses. To combat these less-than-pleasant symptoms, a quality warm mist humidifier like the Honeywell HWM705B—which scored high in our lab testing—can bring great relief. This humidifier can help return moisture to your home, and in the process, soothe sore throats and dry noses. When it comes to COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically recommends humidifiers to ease any symptoms.
3. An electric kettle to brew soothing tea in a jiffy
When you're sick, a hot cup of chamomile tea can go a long way. In order to brew it up quickly so you can get back under the covers, you'll need an efficient electric kettle. This one by Cuisinart is our absolute favorite and has the fastest boiling time out of all the models we tested. If you're trying to live a more frugal lifestyle, you can opt for our favorite budget pick by Hamilton Beach. It's less expensive but still performs like a high-end electric kettle.
4. A cozy comforter to help you rest
Sometimes the only thing you can do to fight off illness is to get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids—A.K.A. spending a lot of time in bed. If you want your bed to be extra comfortable and cozy, this LinenSpa comforter should do the trick. It's our favorite affordable option too, so it won't cost you a pretty penny.
5. A water bottle to keep you hydrated
Staying hydrated is key when you catch a cold or the flu. Drinking water helps flush toxins through your system and makes you feel better if you're losing liquids or feeling dehydrated from the flu. A water bottle can help keep the liquids flowing. This Brita water bottle is the best we've ever tested because it's inexpensive, lightweight, and comes equipped with a filter for premium taste and a straw that is great for when you're sick and don't feel like moving a muscle. Plus, the stainless steel keeps your water cold for 24 hours straight. Not too shabby.
6. A blender to make a nutritious smoothie
Along with all the other annoying flu symptoms, loss of appetite can drain you of energy and make you feel even worse. While you may not be able to stomach eating some soup or crackers, a simple smoothie can be easy to keep down and give you the nutrients and vitamins you need to start feeling better. To whip one up, we recommend the Instant Ace Nova Blender, which is the best affordable blender we've ever tried, as it can crush ice, and blend fruits and veggies like a breeze. For a less expensive option, we've deemed this Magic Bullet blender the best personal blender for smoothies and it's a third of the price.
7. A way to block out distracting noises for a good night's sleep
One of the worst things when you're sick (or perfectly healthy, to be honest) is not being able to fall asleep. There always seems to be something distracting happening around you like the sound of your own runny nose, so it’s good to have some earplugs lying around. The Hearos Xtreme are the best pair of earplugs we've tried, as they strike the perfect balance between blocking sound while still being ultra-comfortable. If you don't love having earplugs in your ears, a noisemaker can block out distracting noises for a peaceful sleep.
8. Soft tissues to ease your nose discomfort
The only thing worse than having the sniffles is using harsh toilet paper to blow your nose when you inevitably run out of tissues. If you don't want to run out to the store while you're trying to rest at home, we recommend stocking up on Puffs Ultra Soft tissues, which are the best tissues we tested because of how soft yet durable they are.
9. A juicer to help you get your daily dose of fruits and veggies
People say that orange juice is good for you when you're sick (or maybe it was just Grandma, but that's neither here nor there). Sometimes that old carton of Tropicana just won't cut it. For a homemade version, this juicer by Omega will churn out high yields of some of the freshest juice you'll ever taste, which is why we named it the best juicer of 2021. While it's on the more expensive side, you'll be able to use it outside of sickness for breakfasts, brunches, and more.
For a more affordable option, this juicer by Hamilton Beach won't hurt your wallet as much. While we haven't tested it ourselves, it has over 7,000 positive reviews on Amazon and holds a 4.5-star rating.
10. A pressure cooker to make fast and hearty meals
A little chicken soup is always the best medicine, but if you're sick, you don't want to be hovering over the stove trying to make some. A pressure cooker makes it easy to throw all the ingredients in a pot and hop back in bed, and best of all, it'll be done before you know it. This model by Crock-Pot is our favorite affordable pressure cooker, as we loved the user-friendly presets and how easy it was to clean. For a more advanced (and more expensive) option, we dubbed the Instant Pot Ultra 10-in-1 the absolute best because it has more than 16 high-performing cooking programs and a great interface.
11. An eye mask to get some shut-eye during the day
If you want to beat your sickness this winter, getting some shut-eye during the day will be one of the best remedies. Of course, sunlight can make it incredibly hard to take a nap, which is where this Nidra Eye Mask comes in handy. After testing it, we found it to be the best contoured sleep mask because it stays put all night long and leaves some space for your eyes so they aren't pressed against the fabric.
12. Epsom salts to help you relax and unwind
Warm baths and Epsom salts aren't just for when you want to treat yourself—they're both great for soothing a sore and tired body. Epsom salts can help alleviate stress and promote sleep, potentially giving you a better night's sleep after a day of fighting off an illness. They've also been shown to boost athletic performance, leading some to believe that Epsom salts can help facilitate muscle recovery as well. Reviewers rave over the Dr. Teal's Epsom Salt Bath Soaking Solution—with a 4.8 rating on Amazon, these soothing salts can help you relax and assist you on your road to recovery.
13. A slow cooker to set-it-and-forget-it
Nobody has time to cook a full-blown meal when they're under the weather, so a kitchen gadget that allows you to set it and forget it while you take a nap is more than ideal. We love this Crock-Pot for that exact purpose and rated it the best affordable slow cooker because of how well it performed in all our tests, making it well on-par with higher-end models. If you feel like splurging, our number one slow cooker is this 3-in-1 multi-cooker model by Cuisinart that can saute and steam food, in addition to offering great performance.
14. A space heater to keep you nice and toasty
Cold nights while you're sick can be especially brutal. If you don't want to jack up your thermostat and spend an arm and a leg on your gas bill, a space heater can help solve your drafty woes. This one by De'Longhi is our favorite space heater we tested because it was the fastest at making rooms super toasty, and was incredibly easy to lift and transport. For a budget option, we recommend this one from Lasko because while it doesn't have as much versatility as our top pick, it still gets the job done.
15. An essential oil diffuser for relaxation and healing
Having a stuffed-up nose means you can't smell very much of anything, but a diffuser may be able to help with that. Not only do they add some extra moisture to your room, but depending on the oil you choose, such as eucalyptus and lavender, they may help clear your sinuses or make it easier to fall asleep. This one by Airomé is the best essential oil diffuser we tested because it's aesthetically pleasing, quiet, and easy to operate and clean.
16. A heating pad to manage pain
There's something magical about heating pads that can mitigate just about any pain in your body, all while keeping you cozy and warm. Just place it wherever is aching and let it go to work. For an electric one, the best we ever tested is the BodyMed Digital Moist Heating Pad. It heats fast, maintains a steady high temperature, and is easy to use. For an old-fashioned microwaveable one, we prefer this one by Caylee's Creations. It's soft, machine-washable, and doubles as a cold compress when you freeze it. Plus, it's less expensive than an electric one.
17. A weighted blanket to de-stress and stay warm
Weighted blankets provide a calming effect with their gentle pressure and overall coziness. And I, for one, need calmness when I'm sick because I'm a hot mess. The super-popular Gravity Blanket ranks as the best weighted blanket we've tested because it provides the perfect amount of pressure, it's easy to clean, and will last you for years to come. It doesn't come cheap, so as a budget option, we also love the YnM Weighted Blanket because it's cozy and well-constructed for a fraction of the price of the Gravity.
18. Hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread
Repeat after me: wash your hands. Many people sneeze or cough onto surfaces that other people then touch, and then touch their own faces before washing them, spreading many germs. To prevent that from happening, you can use soap and water for 20 seconds, or you can use hand sanitizer to kill germs if you're in a pickle. Despite a shortage last year, you can now find some readily available online.
19. Disinfecting wipes to keep surfaces free of germs
While COVID-19 is top of mind for folks, disinfecting wipes can also eliminate other viruses, bacteria and allergens from surfaces around your home. No matter if it's the flu, a cold or COVID-19, wiping down high-touch surfaces around the home can help to prevent spreading germs to other household members. Be sure to properly wipe down surfaces like tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.
20. A hand cream to soothe dry skin
Winter brings in those dry, chilly nights that don't feel so good for you or your skin when you're feeling ill. Keep a hand cream on your bedside table to apply in the mornings, evenings or whenever deemed necessary by your dry hands. We've tested plenty of hand creams and found the Kiehl's Ultimate Strength Hand Salve to be the best overall choice for an ultra-moisturizing and quick-absorbing lotion that'll keep your hands feeling soft and hydrated well throughout the day.
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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: Flu season: 20 essentials to ease symptoms of cold, flu or COVID-19