10 Best Interventions To Fight Cold and Flu Symptoms
As United States health records document year after year, cold and flu (influenza) symptoms are among the leading causes of doctor visits and missed days from work and school. Likely the early months of this year will be no exception. Is there anything you can do now to avoid cold and flu season illness?
Which Do I Have? Is It a Common Cold? Is It the Flu?
Americans suffer from approximately one billion cold and flu illnesses every year. This averages out to about two to four colds per year for the average adult.
Several families of viruses are known to cause colds. When they strike, you can expect all-too-familiar, telltale symptoms. Runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and cough are likely to ensue. Though symptoms are usually mild and disappear within a week, colds do result in rampant absenteeism from work and school.
Influenza is not as common as the cold; furthermore, vaccines can help prevent flu. Unfortunately there is not yet an effective vaccine against colds. Two main types of influenza viruses — A and B — cause most cases of the flu. These viruses spread in the air and also via direct contact. Flu symptoms are usually dramatic with sudden onset of chills, fever and muscle aches. Nasal congestion is not as marked, but the cough that accompanies flu can take weeks, or even months, to resolve completely.
Are you experiencing congestion, sore throat, sneezing, coughing? If your symptoms are mostly confined to areas above the neck, you probably have a cold. On the other hand, if you have all those symptoms plus a fever of 102˚F (38.8˚C ) or more, then you’re more likely suffering from the flu. Flu symptoms also commonly include headache, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. The two are caused by different viruses, but features of cold and flu can be a lot alike. Generally, though, the flu comes on faster with accompanying symptoms of fever, cough and overall tiredness that are more intense.
— strong recommendation —
Call your doctor’s office at the first signs of flu. Antivral drugs (NOT antibiotics) are available with a physician’s prescription. They may shorten your illness and ease symptoms of the flu. For effectiveness, though, you must begin taking them within 48 hours after onset of first symptoms.
Remember, also, that other serious conditions can sometimes look a lot like the common cold. Sinus infections, bronchitis, meningitis, strep throat and asthma exhibit some of the same features.
If you have severe symptoms or do not seem to be getting better within a reasonable time, then call your healthcare provider. Most viral infections, including colds, are on their way out within a week or two. If you’ve been sick for longer than that—or if you feel as though your cold and flu symptoms started to diminish only to flare up again with a vengeance—see your doctor. Why? You may have developed a secondary bacterial infection. This illness could very well need treatment with antibiotic medication. Other signs of a bacterial infection include fever, nasal discharge that contains pus and severe pain in the sinuses.
Experts at the American Academy of Otolaryngology recommend that you contact your healthcare provider promptly in any of the following situations:
1.) experiencing difficulty with breathing
2.) unable to swallow or drink sufficient fluids
3.) develop a rash or a fever
4.) symptoms exacerbate or persist for more than a week
What Happens to the Immune System During Cold and Flu Season?
It is important to recognize that, although a virus triggers your cold and flu symptoms, the microbe itself is not the true cause of the illness. To illustrate: in the very same setting, as we have seen year after year, a group of individuals all can be exposed to the identical environment. Even so, only some of those people eventually become ill and exhibit symptoms. The others escape unscathed. Why does the cold and flu disease process seem to be selective about victims? Health researchers have discovered that it is actually an impaired or compromised immune system that singles out susceptible victims. These are the people who are unable to fight off the virus.
Although there are many ways an individual might end up with a weakened immune system, among the more common causes are the following:
- Not getting enough sleep
- Insufficient exercise and/or exposure to sunlight
- Poor nutrition, especially eating too much sugar and other refined carbohydrates
- Vitamin and/or mineral deficiency
- Inadequately managing emotional stressors
- Any combination of the above
Few people make it through the entire winter season without experiencing at least one scratchy throat or annoying runny nose. It isn’t that germs magically appear at certain times of the year — they’re always around. Instead, it is your ability to respond and fight them off that changes with the seasons. As temperatures drop and we begin to congregate indoors spending less time in the sun, we are more apt to spread viruses from one person to another.
Of course you can’t very well hold your breath for the entire winter. If you want to avoid the misery of cold and flu season altogether this year, you will need to be proactive in boosting up your immune system.
What Specific Actions Can Boost Your Immune System To Fight Cold and Flu Germs?
To avoid getting sick in the first place, plan to implement positive lifestyle improvements. How? Consider the following common sense recommendations:
- eat well and emphasize whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet
- try to sleep seven to eight hours a night
- wash your hands often, and sneeze into your arm — not your hand
- avoid exposure to cigarette smoke, which stalls respiratory defenses
- keep alcohol consumption to a minimum since excessive drinking can impair immunity
- exercise regularly and moderately. If you do come down with a cold, light exercise is still fine and can even help to clear respiratory mucus. If you have a fever, though, then take a break until your temperature returns back to normal.
One piece of good news: don’t worry about the weather. You can’t catch a cold just from being outside in chilly or rainy weather.
To review the most important reasons that many of us get winter cold and flu illnesses:
1.) we’re indoors with other people while windows and doors are closed.
2.) the viruses causing most respiratory infections are always mutating. As a result our immune systems have trouble fighting off these ever-changing germs.
3.) many pathogenic viruses can survive on non-porous surfaces for hours. If you turn a door handle that was recently touched by a sneezing, sniffling person and then lift your hand to your nose, you could infect yourself by that one simple action.
4.) some respiratory viruses, notably those that cause influenza, become airborne when someone coughs. You only need to inhale three tiny viruses to become sick. Remember: one sneeze can spray 3000 droplets traveling at more than 100 miles per hour!
What Can You Do To Minimize the Impact If You Catch a Cold or the Flu?
Preemptive measures such as flu shots, hand washing, healthy eating and regular exercise are among the best ways to to minimize susceptibility. Sometimes, though, even the most scrupulous germaphobes — and other healthy people — get sick anyway.
Contrary to what you might think, some of those annoying symptoms you experience are actually helping the natural healing process. They also provide evidence that the immune system is battling the viral illness. For instance a fever is your body’s way of trying to kill viruses by creating a hotter-than-normal environment. The hot environment makes germ-killing proteins in your blood circulate more quickly and effectively. If you endure a moderate fever for a day or two, then you may ultimately get well faster.
Coughing is another productive symptom. It clears your breathing passages of thick mucus that could otherwise transport germs to your lungs and the rest of your body. Even that stuffy nose is probably best treated mildly or not at all. A decongestant (e.g., Sudafed, Mucinex) works by restricting blood flow to the blood vessels in your nose and throat. You should be aiming, instead, to increase the flow. Because circulating blood warms the infected area, it helps secretions to carry germs out of your body.
Certain natural remedies/supplements/therapies can help shorten symptoms—or prevent infection entirely. Other products, though, have proven to be more hype than health-enhancing. Often simple home remedies may be all you need for relief of mild to moderate flu and cold symptoms. The following list provides information about a variety of interventions to consider if the “Flu Bug” attacks you this winter: