The term “common cold” is not untrue. While children get the most colds – up to six or eight a year, adults average two to four a year. Common colds account for more unnecessary visits to the doctor than any other illness. Meanwhile the flu, though less common, is more severe. On average, over 200,000 people are hospitalized yearly with influenza and flu-related complications.
Cold symptoms often include a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, coughing and mild aches and pains. The flu usually features the same symptoms as a cold, but the symptoms are more severe, and are often accompanied by fever, severe muscle aches, and exhaustion.
Mom’s old saying that you need “tincture of time” to treat your cold/flu symptoms is not far from the truth. To treat cold/flu, doctors recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids, aspirin or acetaminophen for fevers, and over-the-counter medication to temporarily relieve symptoms. Remember that over-the-counter medications only treat symptoms but will not cure the cold or flu.
Most colds/flu will last seven to 10 days whether you treat your symptoms or not. The virus still must run its course and an antibiotic won’t improve your symptoms more quickly.
While the cold/flu can usually be treated at home, there are times when you should seek medical care. Call or visit your health care team if you develop difficulty breathing, have wheezing not related to a stuffy nose, have a persistent fever of more than 100.5, have ear pain, or if you have had your symptoms for more than 10 days with no improvement. As always, you can also call the Health Care Information Line at 00800-4759-2330 to speak with a nurse anytime. This number is toll-free unless called from a cell phone.
Fighting colds and flu: five simple steps
1 – Get vaccinated. Although there is no vaccination for the common cold, the flu vaccine is one of the top weapons against influenza.
2 – Wash hands. Most cold and flu viruses are spread from hand to mouth. There are several ways germs can be transferred, including breathing droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, being within three feet of an infected person, touching your mouth, nose, or eyes after shaking hands with someone or taking change from a cashier. Frequent hand washing, especially after coming into contact with other people, will kill the germs that cause cold and flu. Once exposed to the flu virus you can infect other people for up to two days before you feel sick yourself. You can infect other people for another five days while sick.
3 – Clean work surfaces. Viruses that cause colds can survive up to three hours on inanimate objects, so cleaning work surfaces (desk, phone, etc) with disinfectant may help stop infections.
4 – Practice good health habits. A healthy immune system is a good defense against colds and the flu. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Those who suffer from a chronic illness should make sure to follow the health plan given by a medical provider.
5 – Don’t smoke. Statistics show that heavy smokers get more severe colds and more frequent ones. Smoke dries out nasal passages and paralyzes cilia, which are delicate hairs that line the mucous membranes in the nose and lungs and work to sweep cold and flu viruses out of the nasal passages. Without cilia, the body is left without its best external defense against cold and flu.