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Infectious Diseases

Cold and Flu: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

person sneezing as a result of common cold and flu

Have you ever had stuffy or runny nose accompanied with headaches, exhaustion and maybe some fever as well? You probably had a Flu or a cold and it will interest you to know that they aren’t the same thing. Flus and colds are respiratory illnesses quite similar in presentation.

A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for just a few days, flu symptoms are usually more serious, making you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. They are both caused by viruses and they always go away without medicine after they have run their courses.

Causes of cold and the Flu

When a tiny dose of a virus is inhaled into the nasal passages from droplets sneezed or coughed into the air or transmitted by contaminated fingers of infected individuals, the virus then moves to the back of the nose, where it attaches itself to the adenoid area and begins to reproduce and this can be through:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Hand-to-hand contact.
  • You catch a cold due to a poorly functioning immune system.

What are risk factors for acquiring the common cold?

The following may increase the chances of acquiring the common cold:

  • Age: Infants and young children are more likely to develop the common cold because they have not yet developed immunity to many of the implicated viruses.
  • Seasonal variation: Individuals more commonly acquire this during harmattan or during the rainy season. This occurs because people tend to stay indoors and are in closer proximity to one another.
  • Weakened immune system: Individuals with a poorly functioning immune system are also at risk. Also, individuals with excessive fatigue or emotional distress may be more susceptible to catching the common cold.

 

Symptoms and signs of the common cold/Flu

Symptoms

Cold

Flu

Fever

Sometimes, usually mild

Usual; higher (37.8-38.9 C; occasionally higher, especially in young children); lasts 3 to 4 days

Headache

Occasionally

Common

General Aches, Pains

Slight

Usual; often severe

Tiredness, Weakness

Sometimes

Usual; can last 2 to 3 weeks

Extreme Exhaustion

Never

Usual; at the beginning of the illness

Stuffy Nose

Common

Sometimes

Sneezing

Usual

Sometimes

Sore Throat

Common

Sometimes

Chest Discomfort, Cough

Mild to moderate hacking cough

Common; can become severe

The signs and symptoms of the common cold in infants and children are similar to those seen in adults.It may begin with a runny nose with clear nasal discharge, which later may become yellowish or greenish in color. Infants and children may also become fussy and have decreased appetite.

 Treatment

There is no cure for the common cold. It resolves spontaneously with time and expectant management. Home remedies and medical treatments are directed at alleviating the symptoms associated with the common cold while the body fights off the infection.

NOTE: Antibiotics don’t treat the flu. They only work against bacteria, and the flu is caused by a virus. You might need antibiotics if you get a secondary infection in your ear, sinuses, or lungs (like pneumonia or bronchitis).

How do you ease the symptoms?

  • Stay home and get enough rest
  • Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Treat the fever and pains with over-the-counter analgesics
  • Treat the cough with over-the-counter expectorants
  • Nasal steam therapy can also help
  • Get lozenges to help soothe the sore throat
  • Gargling with warm saltwater may help people with sore throats
  • Nasal Decongestant drugs such as pseudoephedrine or antihistamines may be used for nasal symptoms, while saline nasal sprays may also be beneficial.
  • To prevent a cold from leading to ear aches, try not to blow your nose just wipe it.

Tips to prevent Cold and Flu

  • Get enough sleep and eat well.
  • Take more of fruit as source of vitamin C, fruit like oranges, tomatoes etc.
  • Wash your hands every time especially before touching your face, nose, mouth.
  • Unlike what many people believe, colds do not come from getting cold or wet although getting very cold, wet, or tired can worsen a cold.
  • Infected persons should eat and sleep separately and keep far away from little children as he may infect them. He should cover his nose and mouth when he coughs or sneezes, and wash his hands as often as possible.

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