Colds and Flu

Up until two years ago, my head was stopped up, my chest was full of congestion, and I would lie in my bed shivering from the flu at least three times a year.  It was automatic that I would get bronchitis or even walking pneumonia.  I finally had enough of the lethargy that lingered weeks beyond the cold or flu and decided to research the topic for my own health’s sake.

Flu photo
Photo by jpcolasso

The symptoms of a cold are name brand: runny nose, itchy throat, headache, chest congestion, or an overall body ache that keeps you in bed.  These symptoms are caused by a virus.  There are a variety of strains of viruses that group together to form the cold “storm” in your body which is why identifying drug treatment is difficult.

Each year the CDC located in the United States issues cold and flu warnings as well as collect anti-viral information to combat a breakout epidemic.  The elderly and those with compromised respiratory or health systems are urged to take the anti-flu injections to avoid getting severely ill.  The CDC works diligently to study Asian flu trends and then approve an antidote.

United States clinics, hospitals, and physician offices stockpile CDC recommended antidote dosages for patients as a preventative measure.  Yet, there are those who choose to decline the shots for costs reasons or because they do not agree with injecting an alien virus into their body.

Whatever the reason, colds are caused by a grouping virus that mutate according to their origin.  The rhinovirus is the main precipitator of most common cold symptoms.  The cold virus, rhinovirus, enters your body through the mouth or nose and is spread through contact.  Washing your hands and changing your toothbrush often during the winter or cold season is one way to offset spreading the cold virus.

Getting wet or being exposed to cold air is generally not the cause of a cold, however if in addition to being damp or cold you have a weakened immune system you are susceptible to incubating the cold virus.  Researchers have found a correlation to fatigue, stress, and allergies as other cold propensities.

How Does a Cold Start?

The common cold begins when you come in contact with another person who has the virus.  This is why getting wet or being in cold air is usually not causative alone.  But, when you are around someone who is carrying the virus, which is the beginning.  You may touch a cold infected surface or catch the virus from a sneeze that travels into your space.

When the virus attaches to the lining of your nose or throat, your immune system activates.  It sends out red blood cells to attack the cold germ.  The immunity attack can be successful and short lived if you have had that cold strain before.  If not, more forceful attacks will generate to suppress the viral germs and then you begin to feel the congestion and other symptoms that typically activate with a cold.

Children are known cold virus carriers.  One reason is hygiene.  Small children typically do not know to cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing.  Children need to be taught to wash their hands regularly and to wipe their noses so that they do not spread the cold virus.

Adults need a refresher on the same hygienic etiquette.  How often have you been around someone, as I have, and the adult sneezes directly in your face without covering their mouth or nose?  How many times do you see adults cough and fail to wash their hands?

These reasons alone account for the populous spread of a cold virus.  There is no excuse for either.  Teach children before daycare age how to blow their nose, cough properly and wash their hands and then remind adults in your personal space, whether at work or at home to be more considerate especially during cold season.

The CDC estimates that children miss an average of twenty (20) days from daycare or school.  Adults loose about six days from work.  I posit that this number is low because adults tend to go to work sick and spread the virus rather than stay at home in a contained environment until the symptoms cease.

A Cold is a Virus

A cold is a virus and will not react to antibiotics.  Antibiotics do not cure colds.  In spite of this truth, many people still run to the doctor asking for antibiotics for relief.  The best remedy the doctor can give you is to send you home to rest.  In this case, “taking too aspirin and call in the morning” is sound advice.  Maybe the aspirin will relieve your aches and allow you rest and recovery time so that you can mend from the immune attacks going on in your body.

Antibiotics kill cold bacteria, not viruses.

Viruses must run their course.  A typical cold lasts about seven days.  The common best thing for you to do is rest.  It may seem an improbability, which you cannot afford do because of your busy lifestyle and obligations.  Yet, if you spend the downtime resting instead of fighting or working through the symptoms, you usually will recover faster.

Itchy or throat, sneezing, congestion, mucus, and watery eyes sound like a United States television commercial advertising cold remedies.   You can begin to feel better quicker with over-the-counter cold relief medicine.  CAUTION:  If you have a heart condition or other disorder read the labels paying close attention to ingredients that could potentially raise your heart rate or blood pressure.  But, still nothing replaces the rest needed to backstop the symptoms.

If your cold symptoms last for more than a week, it is time to see a doctor for an examination to see if your symptoms manifest a different diagnosis.   Remember, if you have compromised immune systems, are ill, pregnant, elderly, or have respiratory weaknesses, you need to consult your physician when your symptoms linger beyond the customary run time of a common cold.

Truth is truth.  Fact is a fact.  Colds must run their course.  Antibiotics do not help a common cold, but rest will.

Flu and Your Body

The symptoms for flu are the same, maybe with stronger intensity, as the common cold except that with the flu you get a fever and then may have bacteria to which antibiotics will repress and kill.  Muscle aches and high body fever, in addition to the common cold symptoms, usually indicates you have the flu.

Flu bacteria in your body need medical attention.  Because I would put off going to the doctor even though I would sometimes hang over the bed begging for relief probably aggravated my immune symptoms and taxed my bronchial system such that I easily and often contracted bronchitis and a mild form of walking pneumonia.

Don’t be silly or stubborn like me.  Get antibiotics from your doctor immediately and begin to treat your flu symptoms before they intensify into blown up bronchitis or pneumonia.  Save your body the irritation required to fight either congestion problem.

Antibiotics can kill the flu virus.  However, taking antibiotics is not enough.  Your body still needs rest to recuperate.  You will still need to guard yourself and others from a recurring infection.  Get proper rest so you can pop right up sooner and be healthy again.

Exercise and a Cold

I found that when I exercise regularly, during and after the cold season, my cold incidents are fewer.  Possibly it is because my lung capacity is larger allowing me to breathe deeper and exchange air.  It may also be because exercise pushes out excess mucus.

Researchers agree. Regular exercise improves lung and breathing capacity according to a recent article in The American Journal of Medicine.  And, exercise strengthens immunity giving your body the ability to ward off infections from a cold or the flu.

I vouch for that.  Since I began a regular, doctor supervised, exercise program last winter, I have had only one bad cold.  This is a 75% reduction from my regular 4 bouts a year which does not include the numerous bronchitis attacks and near pneumonia incidents that plagued my well being and taxed my immune system for year.

Get moving if your doctor says that you can.  Exercise is reported to boost the immune system, increase lung capacity, and add stamina (all healthy benefits) to help you fight a common cold.

CAUTION:  If you have asthma and a cold, consult your doctor before exercising.  If you have other pulmonary, cardiac, or joint issues, get approval from your doctor before exercising while you have a cold.  Certain medicines may not interact well with grocery store or over-the-counter cold remedies.  So, please talk to your doctor.

You can and should exercise when you have a common cold, provided that existing conditions preclude doing so.  Exercise can boost your immune system as long as you pursue moderate conditioning.  Do not add trauma to your lungs or further stress your body while you go through the normal course of a cold. The main warning from a common cold is that it signals your body that it needs to rest.

Use common sense.  Stop exercising and make an appointment with your doctor if you experience:

  • Dizziness
  • chest pain
  • heavy congestion (a possible sign of bronchitis or pneumonia)
  • trouble breathing
  • irregular heartbeat.

Be aware.  Pay attention to your body.

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