Cough, running nose, sore throat, headache and fever are symptoms that we will experience from time to time. The challenge is these symptoms confuse people and they go to pharmacies where they are given an array of medication .The challenge is antibiotics are usually given and they may not be necessary. The reason for this is that a majority of upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses. That is the reason why antibiotics are never effective. Two common viral upper respiratory tract infections are the cold and the flu. Many a times the two are used interchangeably but they are totally different infections with different patterns of symptoms.
Colds are caused by a group of viruses called Rhino viruses. There are almost 200 varieties of these viruses whereas the flu is caused by a group of influenza viruses.
A cold is a much milder infection that the flu. The virus infects your nose, sinuses and throat. One to three days after the infection the symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, blocked nose, tearing eyes, headache and at times a sore throat. The sore throat can cause a dry cough. Throughout the infection the infected person can go about their daily tasks as they discomfort is minimal.
Unlike the cold, the flu viruses cause more serious signs and symptoms. In addition to the upper respiratory tract symptoms of running nose, sore throat and cough there are symptoms like fever, joint pains, fatigue, muscle aches which make a person feel very ill. The thing about the flu is that the symptoms develop much faster than a cold and you get ill very quickly.
In countries like Kenya the symptoms of the flu are often mistaken for malaria and this confusion makes it hard for people to seek adequate treatment.
Since they are caused by viruses it is very hard to treat them directly. Majority of the times we treat the symptoms to reduce discomfort e.g. antihistamines and decongestants can be used to relieve a stuffy nose while pain killers and cough syrups can help treat aches as well as coughs. However, cough syrups are not given to children as their adverse effects have not been well studied in children.
If you do not want to use medication, there are several well-known home remedies and actions that can help reduce the discomfort of colds and flus. These include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids in form of water or freshly squeezed fruit juices. They help to boost the immunity of your airway. Can a shot of brandy in help clear your flu? Research states that you avoid alcohol when you have the flu as it dehydrates your body making recovery slower.
- Rest is critical when you have flu. Rest boosts your immune system allowing for faster recovery.
- If there is chest congestion chicken soup can help relieve this congestion and make your body feel better.
- For coughs and sore throats a combination of honey and ginger will help relieve that.
- To relieve congestion of the nose you can inhale steam.
Prevention is always easier than treatment. Here are ways you can minimize your chances of getting these viral infections:
- Proper hand washing using soap and water after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.
- When sick with the flu it is best to stay away from places of work and school thus avoiding its spread.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Preferably use tissue or a handkerchief. Make sure the tissue is well disposed and the handkerchief washed using hot water or disinfectant.
- Ensure your immune system is strong by eating well, sleeping adequately, manage stress and exercise regularly.
WHEN TO GO TO HOSPITAL
Most times the symptoms of the cold and flu will subside with time. However, visit the hospital when you notice the following:
- The fever is persisting.
- Your symptoms are getting worse.
- You have chest pain when breathing in and out.
- You have a painful productive cough with yellow/green sputum that may be blood stained.
- You are at risk of getting complications of the flu e.g. diabetic, HIV