What to do about Colds & Flu


What to do about COLDS & FLU

Your alarm clock has just gone off, and you're tired all over. Your throat is scratchy, your nose is stuffy, your head feels heavy. Oh, no, it feels like you've caught a cold, and with that awful virus that seems to have everybody down, you hope it's only a cold and not the flu.

At the height of the cold season, 39 million Americans are suffering every day from cold symptoms. Adults average two colds per year and children, six. (Adults living with kids get them more often.) The common cold is an acute viral infection caused by one of many contagious rhinoviruses that invade the upper respiratory tract. Rhino- means nose and each runny nose may be caused by a different virus. The cold is self-limiting. It hits hard for about four or five days. Symptoms are usually gone completely within ten days.

Like a cold, the flu is also an acute viral infection, it affects the upper respiratory system, and it is self-limiting. Although flu symptoms begin to subside after three or four days, fatigue and weakness may continue for days or even weeks. The flu is caused by the myxovirus, and can be much more severe than a cold. The great influenza pandemics have killed millions of people worldwide. Surprisingly, influenza still kills an average of 20,000 Americans every year.

At the beginning stages, the symptoms of colds and flu can be very similar. Some general differentiations can be made:

- Colds tend to come on slowly while flu is swift and severe.

- Colds are rarely accompanied by fever; flu frequently is.

- Colds show localized symptoms such as runny nose and sneezing; flu has general symptoms like fatigue, chills, and body ache.

Other symptoms which are much more common to flu are a dry, hacking cough (90 percent of cases), sore eyes (60 percent), and facial flush with hot, moist skin (50 percent). In the beginning stages, there is no single symptom that distinguishes flu from the common cold -or from the early stages of bronchitis or strep throat. If you have all the general flu symptoms and flu is going around, you are probably coming down with it.

Although some people swear by their annual "flu shots," mainstream science has yet to devise a cure for colds or flu. Over-the-counter drugs for the suppression of cold and flu symptoms abound. But symptoms are actually outward signs of immune system function and suppressing them is questionable. Fever is a case point. Fever impairs viral replication and causes the release of the body's own interferon, a potent antiviral substance. Plus, the drugs themselves cause other symptoms. For example, no fewer than 97 side effects have been ascribed to antihistamines, including constipation, blurred vision, and the inability to urinate.

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