It’s that time of year again — cold and flu season. Colds, sinus infections, strep throat and the flu account for an increase in sick days and hospital visits during the winter months.
Here’s your quick guide to the season’s most common illnesses, as well as ways to treat them.
The common cold usually starts with a sore throat, along with some mild achiness and maybe a low fever. Gradually, you may begin to have a dry or mild cough with congestion. You may also have a runny nose and some sneezing. If you have a cold, you generally feel more tired, but are able to get through your day. Your symptoms may last anywhere from seven to 14 days, depending on the virus and your overall health. The best treatment is adequate rest, saline nasal spray, warm salt-water gargles, medicine for decongestion (if you don’t have high blood pressure), and a cough suppressant at bedtime so you can rest.
Sometimes colds can progress to sinusitis or a sinus infection. Doctors usually diagnose a sinus infection after 10 to 14 days of symptoms, including worsening sinus pain or pressure in the forehead, cheeks and/or between the eyes, and a thick yellow/green nasal discharge throughout the day. You may also develop a fever. Antibiotics and saline nasal rinse can help treat a sinus infection.
Strep throat is most common in children and young adults. It starts with a severe sore throat, fever, achiness, swollen neck lymph nodes and white patches on the back of the tonsils. You look and feel more ill than when you have the common cold. There is no associated congestion, sneezing, runny nose or cough. Contagious bacteria cause strep throat, and you need antibiotics for treatment.
The flu occurs very suddenly. One minute you’re feeling fine, and the next you feel as if a truck hit you. It is more severe than the common cold. Symptoms may include achiness, fever, dry cough and headache. Because the flu is viral, antibiotics are not helpful. Instead, antiviral medications help to lessen the severity and duration of symptoms — but it is important to treat symptoms early. Fluids, rest, and over-the-counter pain medications for fever and achiness can also alleviate symptoms. Stay home if you have the flu to avoid passing it to others.
Getting a yearly flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting and spreading the flu. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. Some people, however, may experience mild muscle aches, headache and a low fever for a few days. It’s not too late to get your flu shot. While the best time to get it is mid-October through November, getting it later is better than not getting it at all.
Regardless of what type of illness you have, washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze will go a long way in helping to prevent the spread of germs.