Facts on Cold And Flu
What are the causes of cold and flu?
According to 2009 MOH Health Statistics, acute upper respiratory tract infections including flu are the third most common reason for patients' visits to polyclinics in Singapore. Viruses are the cause of these respiratory conditions. More than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause cold, with rhinoviruses accounting for approximately 30-35% of the cases. Given such a wide array of viruses for our body to learn to fight, this is why we can catch a cold easily and it is difficult to acquire immunity against it. Conversely, flu is only caused by influenza virus types A, B, and C. Hence, this facilitates the development of flu vaccines that are updated yearly across the world to provide us some level of protection.
How do you know when you are down with cold or flu?
As colds and the flu may present many similar symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, sore throat and cough, it can be difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone. Laboratory tests may be carried out to determine if a person has the flu. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as high-grade fever, body aches, fatigue, and loss of appetite are more common, intense with sudden onset. Colds are generally self-limiting and do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalisations.
What should I do to treat colds since it is quite common?
Although there's no cure for the common cold, there are some measures to make you feel better while your body fights off the virus. Get plenty of rest, especially while you have a fever. Avoid alcohol and drink lots of fluids such as water and clear soups to keep yourself hydrated. Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke, which can worsen the cold symptoms. Use of saline irrigation products can help loosen mucus and moisten the tender skin in your nose. Lastly, do consult your pharmacist for medication that can effectively relieve the symptoms and help you to recover faster.
How do I go about getting medicines to treat the symptoms?
You can approach your pharmacist for advice and recommendations on self-treatment for colds. You should inform him/her on your drug allergies, medical conditions if any. After evaluating the severity of the condition, non-prescription medicines may be recommended for you if appropriate.
Antihistamines, drowsy or non-drowsy types, are available to treat symptoms like sneezing, runny and itchy nose. Decongestant drops or sprays can help alleviate nasal obstruction when used over a few days. Lozenges and sprays may be useful in providing sore throat pain relief and may reduce inflammation. Cough syrups such as antitussives and mucolytics are effective in relieving dry itchy cough and phlegmy cough respectively. Paracetamol is also available over the counter for the treatment of fever and body aches.
When should I consult the doctor?
You should consider seeing your doctor if the cold lasts for more than 10 days or if you are experiencing difficulty in breathing, a fever of more than 38.3°C, unusual symptoms such as stiff neck or vomiting, production of green or bloody mucus and feelings of pain and pressure in the face or around the eyes.
Can I protect myself from catching such contagious conditions?
You can reduce your risk of catching a cold or the flu by washing your hands frequently, which stops the spread of germs. Eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep also play an important part because they help boost your immune system.
Nowadays, it is recommended that children, elderly and chronically ill patients receive the influenza vaccine. The vaccines work by exposing your immune system to the flu virus so that your body will build up antibodies to protect you from getting the flu. Some people who have received the flu vaccination may still get the flu, but they will usually suffer milder symptoms compared to those who have not been vaccinated.
For more information on prevention or treatment of cold and flu, ask your pharmacist today.