Don’t Get Left Out In The Cold This Winter
It is that time of year again! The time where Kleenex flies off the shelf due to the tens of millions of people who come down with a cold or flu each year. It is important to note that a cold and flu are NOT the same. A cold is due to the rhinovirus, while the flu is due to the influenza virus. How can we tell the two apart?
Sometimes it can be very difficult to tell the two apart. Typically, colds will usually be less severe and usually not accompanied by a fever or severe body aches. The flu on the other hand, can be quite problematic to certain people with weakened immune systems. The flu is more likely to produce a fever, severe body aches, and extreme fatigue. The flu is also more likely to lead to further complications such as sinus infections, upper respiratory infections or pneumonia.
Here are some common FAQs regarding the cold and flu.
Will antibiotics help?
NO! As mentioned the cold and flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics only attack bacteria, they do nothing against viruses. (You may have a bacterial infections, such as a sinus infection, as a complication of the flu. In that case yes, antibiotics will help clear the sinus infection. However, antiobiotics will do nothing to stop the runny nose, sore throat fever, aches, etc that occurs during the first week of the flu.)
Does over-the-counter medication help?
Yes and no. It will not help eliminate the virus any faster. What it will do is help control your symptoms. It is important to note that you are still contagious to others at this point, even if the OTC medication did lessen your symptoms.
They may be counter-productive in some instances. The symptoms that accompany a cold or flu are a way to help your body fight the infection (A fever kicks your immune system into overdrive, a wet cough and runny nose are a way to expel mucous from your body, etc) So, by lessening these symptoms you may actually be stunting your bodies ability to fight the infection.
Why do I get sick more in the winter?
People stay indoors more often due to cold weather, this makes it easier to come into contact with the cold or flu virus. Also, the viruses have an easier time surviving in the dry air of winter. It is NOT due to simply being cold or “catching a chill”.
Why do I get sick every year?
When your body is exposed to a virus, it fights it off, and also creates antibodies to that virus. Which means you can not get the same virus twice. The problem with the cold and flu virus is two fold. Number one- there are multiple strains of each virus. It isn’t just one rhinovirus, it is about 100 different strains of the rhinovirus. Number two- the viruses like to mutate quite often, which means new strains are created quite frequently.
Does the flu shot actually work?
Yes and no. It lessens the chances of you getting infected, however, it is not 100% guarantted to prevent the flu. Basically, they create a vaccine with the strains of the flu virus that they expect to be the most common for the upcoming flu season. If you are exposed to a different strain, one that was not put into the vaccine, then you have no protection from that particular strain, which leaves you vulnerable to being infected. Studies show the flu shot will leave you about 50% LESS likely to come down with the flu. As a side note, the viruses used in the vaccines are dead, so you can NOT become infected with a flu virus from receiving the flu shot.
Here are some simple tips to help prevent the cold or the flu:
- Stay hydrated
- Wash hands frequently
- Get the proper amount of sleep
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Avoid contact with other sick people
- Stay active
- Keep the humidity level of your house between 45-60%
- Use a saline sinus rinse frequently
- Disinfect any area used by sick people
- Consider the flu vaccine, which may cut the chances of getting the flu by as much as 50%
What to do if you come down with a cold or flu?
- Stay hydrated
- Eat chicken soup, grandma was right, it actually helps
- Wash hands frequently
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, NOT your hands
- If your body is up to it, try some LIGHT exercise, but DO NOT overdo it!
- Gargle with salt water for a sore throat
- Use a nasal saline rinse to help flush out sinuses and relieve inflammation
- Consume 1-2 Tbsp of honey to ease a sore throat. Try putting honey in your tea.
- Try to stay home and avoid getting other people sick. Yes, this means staying home from work or school!
- DO NOT go to the ER for a routine cold or flu.
- DO call your family physician or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms
- Extremely high fever
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden dizziness
- Symptoms that go away, only to return worse than ever