THE COMMON COLD
Rhinovirus is the most common cause of the common cold. While a cold can make you feel rather miserable, it is usually milder than influenza and most people recover in 7-10 days without any complications. If you have a weak immune system, asthma, or other respiratory condition, you could develop a more serious illness such as pneumonia after contracting a cold. Colds can also cause sinus and ear infections and trigger asthma attacks.
There is no vaccine to protect you from rhinoviruses. To prevent colds, wash your hands often, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and limit contact with people who are sick.
A “tincture of time” is the best remedy for a cold. Rest and drink lots of fluids to help you recover. Over the counter medications may relieve or decrease some of your symptoms. Antibiotics will not help you recuperate from a virus.
When to see a doctor:
You should call your doctor if you or your child has one or more of these conditions:
- a temperature higher than 100.4° F
- symptoms that last more than 10 days
- symptoms that are severe or unusual
If your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a fever, you should always call your doctor right away. Your doctor can determine if you or your child has a cold and can recommend therapy to help with symptoms. https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/
Influenza is caused by an influenza virus and is usually more severe than a cold. One of the key characteristics of influenza is that symptoms start suddenly. Illness from an influenza virus can range from mild to very severe and can result in death, even in previously healthy people. Possible complications include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. The initial illness typically lasts 3 -7 days but some symptoms such as a cough and fatigue can last for more than two weeks. Because multiple strains of influenza viruses circulate each season, you can contract it more than once per year.
The most effective way to prevent influenza is to get a flu vaccine every year. Vaccines are available for everyone 6 months of age and older. Current vaccines cover 3-4 strains of influenza so it is still worthwhile to be vaccinated even if you have already had the illness this flu season. It is also beneficial to wash your hands often, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and limit contact with people who are sick.
If you are diagnosed with influenza, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug to help shorten the duration and severity of your symptoms. These drugs are only effective when taken within the first two days of the illness. Antibiotics will not help you recuperate from a virus.
When to see a doctor:
People who are more likely to develop severe symptoms and complications, including children, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with certain types of medical conditions should seek medical care as early as possible after developing influenza symptoms. An extensive list of high risk groups can be found here. As always, contact your doctor if you have severe symptoms or are concerned about your illness.
When to go to the emergency room for influenza symptoms:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
- Being unable to eat
- Has no tears when crying
- Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Stomach “flu” as gastroenteritis is commonly called, is not related to influenza in any way but is typically caused by a norovirus. Symptoms usually last 1 to 3 days. The most common complication is dehydration.
The flu vaccine will not protect you from a norovirus infection. No norovirus vaccine is currently available; however, research is in progress to develop one. To prevent the illness, always wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet or changing diapers and before eating, preparing, or handling food. Wash fruits and vegetables carefully before preparing and eating them. Cook seafood completely before consuming.
Drink plenty of fluids. Sports drinks and other non-caffeinated drinks can help to prevent dehydration. But, these drinks may not replace important nutrients and minerals. Oral rehydration fluids that you can get over the counter are most helpful for mild dehydration. Antibiotics will not help you recuperate from a virus.
When to see a doctor:
See a doctor when you suspect severe dehydration. Young children, older adults, and people with other illnesses are the most susceptible. Signs of dehydration are a decrease in urination, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when standing up. Children may cry with few or no tears, be unusually sleepy or fussy, and have fewer wet diapers than usual.
By Diane M. Bowman, CMA, CCRC