Does it seem like a lot of people are sick?
If it seems like you and everyone around you is sick with a cold, seasonal changes may be to blame. Fall is the peak season for colds, but spring isn’t far behind. Several factors contribute to that fact.
“The studies show that it’s pretty consistent all year long, but there is definitely a correlation with getting colds and the spring and fall,” said Internal Medicine Physician Lisa Weinstein-Moreno, MD, at Emerald Physicians in Mashpee and Sandwich.
“There are numerous viruses that cause the common cold. The two most common are rhinoviruses and coronaviruses. Those viruses thrive in cooler weather. They don’t do well in hot weather like summertime and they don’t do well in cold weather like wintertime. So as the weather lightens up those are the viruses that tend to grow.”
Some people mistake allergies for a cold, but those who do have allergies are more susceptible to colds, Dr. Weinstein-Moreno said. When a person has active allergies, their nasal and oral mucosa get swollen and their immune system is working to keep the allergies under control. That weakens the immune system and leaves you more susceptible to catching other things, like a cold.
“The best way to prevent a cold is to stay healthy,” she said. “So, get enough sleep, eat healthily, exercise in moderation – all of the things that you would typically think of to stay healthy – and practice good hand-washing. Don’t touch your face, don’t touch your eyes unless you wash your hands first.”
Read OTC Labels Carefully
For most colds, you do not need to go to the doctor because there is really nothing a doctor can do to treat it, and you risk infecting others. You just have to let it run its course and get symptomatic relief.
“Symptomatic relief includes drinking plenty of fluids and, depending on your other medical issues, the over-the-counter medications,” she said. “You have to be careful if you have high blood pressure or diabetes. You have to pick ones that are diabetic-friendly or blood pressure-friendly.”
A lot of cold medicines carry warnings about high blood pressure on their labels, so it’s important for those who have hypertension to always read the labels before taking over-the-counter medicines. The decongestant component in regular cold medicines raises blood pressure. The ones that are made specifically for those with high blood pressure might not offer quite as much relief, but they are safer to take.
“Saline nasal spray is fine as long as you keep the bottle tip clean. If you have an infection you don’t want it to get into the bottle because then you keep re-infecting yourself,” Dr. Weinstein-Moreno said. “You should wipe it down with an alcohol wipe after each use.”
If you have a really bad cough, an effective cough suppressant like Delsym works very well to provide relief. It is safe to take it if you have high blood pressure, but people with diabetes should buy the sugar-free form of it.
“I’m a strong believer in chicken soup,” Dr. Weinstein-Moreno said. “I have no idea if it’s true, but I’m Jewish and we call it ‘Jewish penicillin.’ I don’t know if there is specifically something in the soup, but I think part of it is that it’s keeping you hydrated.”
There are studies that show it actually does help. Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha reported that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory effects on upper respiratory infections. The recipe used was called “Grandma’s Chicken Soup,” but the study showed that commercial soups can also help.
When to See a Doctor
A typical cold is just a virus that will go away on its own, but if you are run down and your body is fighting a cold virus, you are more susceptible to getting a bacterial infection as well. If you don’t feel better after five days or you spike a fever, it is time to go to the doctor.
Bronchitis is different from a cold simply because of the location of the infection. With a cold, your upper airway system is affected. Once the infection goes lower down into your trachea and bronchi it is bronchitis. Symptoms include a deeper almost barky cough that is more productive. Bronchitis can be either viral or bacterial and you get sicker than a cold. It’s more than a cold, but not quite pneumonia she said.
One of the most important things to do if you are sick is get plenty of rest.
“Rest gives your body a chance to heal,” Dr. Weinstein-Moreno said. “A good night’s sleep and rest is absolutely important for both prevention and for treatment.”