It is the time of year for colds, coughs and flu again. What is the difference between a cold and Flu? What can I do to protect myself from illness? What do I do if I feel myself going down with something?
Influenza (flu) is a viral illness with fever, cough and generalized muscle pain, and sometimes nausea and or diarrhoea. The infection lasts from 5-7 days, and is infectious, being spread by droplets which are coughed or sneezed into the air.
The common cold is also a viral infection (coryza) causing a blocked or running nose, sore throat, and sometimes a mild fever and headache, but with far less general fatigue and muscle pain as flu. It is caused by a variety of viruses, and is also infectious, often being spread by hand to hand contact, touching something that an infected person has contaminated, for by example, by blowing his nose, and then handling the object.
Flu tends to affect the young and the elderly, as immunity is built up over the years. The cold, in contrast, does not allow immunity to build up because there are so many different viruses which cause it. Thus it affects anyone, and is probably the most common recurring disease in the world, causing the most time lost from work due to illness.
Flu immunisation is recommended for those at risk, i.e., those over age 65, health care workers, pregnant women or those with chronic heart, lung, kidney or immune system disorders. The immunization is relatively safe, and in high-risk groups including pregnancy, any risk is outweighed by the advantages.
For those who don’t want a vaccination, there are many measures we can take:
- Vitamin D is now recognized as playing an important role in immunity, and a course of Vitamin D 3 is advisable. You may choose to have your vitamin D levels measured by a simple blood test.
- A course of Echinacea will help build up your immunity at the beginning of winter. Try to use the whole plant extract rather than one with isolated ingredients, as the whole plant contains far more active ingredients that are normally extracted.
- Huang Qi (astragalus) is an immune system supporter and should be taken as 20 drops twice daily for a month or 2 at the beginning of winter.
- Wash your hands after handling money or any other objects handled by an infected person. Do not use antibacterial soaps, as these are quite unnecessary and cause more skin problems than they prevent!
- Stop smoking! If you are a smoker, take Vitamin C 1gm daily, as levels of this vitamin are depleted in smokers.
If you feel that you have picked up a ‘bug’, don’t go running to the GP for antibiotics, as they don’t help viral infections!
For flu, bed rest and pain medication for the muscle aches and chills are usually all that is needed. It is wise to remain in bed until the fever has subsided and avoided contact with fellow workers to prevent the spread of the illness. Sport should be avoided until completely recovered, as the muscle pain indicates inflammation and this includes the heart muscle. Excessive exertion may result in damage to the heart including the possibility of a heart attack.
The common cold does not require treatment with antibiotics and symptomatic treatment with analgesics and possibly a decongestant is all that is needed. These should be used cautiously in children as they can have toxic side effects. Decongestant nasal drops should not be used for more than 5 days at a time, as the membrane inside the nose reacts and begins to swell without the drops, leading to a circle of dependence.
COVER your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and wash your hands after sneezing and blowing the nose to avoid infecting others. Use disposable tissues rather than a handkerchief.
Gargling with disprin relieves a sore throat, but disprin should not be given to children under age 12.
Nasal stuffiness is relieved by nasal drops made with a mixture of salt and bicarbonate of soda, ½ teaspoon of each in 250ml boiled and cooled water. This is the best treatment for infants and children.
At the 1st sign of infection, take Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 2 grams every 2-3 hours or until you develop diarrhoea.
- Take Echinacea 3 times a day. The dose depends on the preparation but is usually 1 capsule or if using the tincture, 30-40 drops. It is very safe.
- Garlic is a very effective natural antibiotic and is very safe. Take 1 clove or 1 capsule every 4 hours.
- Goldenseal drops or tincture is effective but should be used with caution if you have high blood pressure and is unsuitable in pregnancy.
- Thyme, the common culinary herb, is an excellent cough remedy and can be used as a tea.
- Homoeopathic remedies need to be personalized, but complex remedies such as Gripp-heel can be very effective.
- Tissue salts: ferr phos for inflammation and Kali mur for mucous are useful as well as the ‘Coughs and colds combin’.
If a secondary infection develops such as sinusitis, steaming with a menthol containing substance such as Vicks or Tea Tree Oil is very effective. Follow the steaming by washing out the sinuses with a mixture of salt and bicarbonate of soda, ½ teaspoon of each in 250ml boiled and cooled water. This is then sniffed up into 1 nostril at a time, and helps wash out the thick mucus in the sinus.
If you are in a high risk group, such as those with chronic chest conditions or diabetics, see your GP if you are not improving after 3-5 days, or if symptoms are worsening in that time.