Cold and flu season is on the way. What happens when you have a severe sore throat, lots of congestion or a painful earache? You feel absolutely miserable so you decide to see your health care provider.
The likely diagnosis is a “viral infection.” Do you leave the medical clinic empty-handed or do you plead for a prescription for antibiotics?
Viruses, not bacteria, cause most upper respiratory infections. While antibiotics can effectively treat bacterial infections, they are not effective against viral infections such as the common cold, most sore throats and influenza.
Bacterial illnesses that may benefit from antibiotics include strep throat, tuberculosis and many types of pneumonia.
If your health care provider determines that your illness is caused by a virus, antibiotics should not be prescribed. Although most patients can understand this, antibiotics are still among the most frequently asked-for prescription.
Inappropriate use of antibiotics has led to the development of new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called “super bugs,” that must be treated with different and stronger antibiotics. This is a serious medical concern.
Tips to feel better (without antibiotics)
Remember, most colds (viral infections) usually run their course within five to 10 days — with or without treatment.
To feel better while you have a viral infection you should:
¦ drink plenty of fluids
¦ get plenty of rest
¦ use a humidifier
¦ try over-the-counter medications (OTC), based on your symptoms
Over-the-counter medications include cough suppressants that can help control coughing and decongestants to help relieve a stuffy nose. Ask your pharmacist or health care provider if you have questions about which product will work best for you.
Always read the labels — including the warnings — before taking any medication. If you have a pre-existing medical condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease, check with your health care provider about which OTC products are appropriate for you.
Contact your health care provider if:
¦ your viral symptoms get worse or seem to last much longer than normal;
¦ after you start feeling better, you develop new signs or symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, high fever, shaking, chills, chest pain) that could indicate a more serious problem.
Tips to avoid catching colds or the flu
In addition to receiving a flu vaccination, taking the following steps can help you avoid coming down with the flu or colds this coming winter:
¦ Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
¦ Drink plenty of liquids and get plenty of sleep.
¦ If you are really sick, stay home to avoid passing anything on to others.
¦ Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze.
¦ Wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose or coughing or sneezing. Using regular soap and water is sufficient; the important part is to lather well. You need to lather for 20 seconds and then rinse equally well.
¦ Discard used tissues immediately into the garbage can.
Following these suggestions can be an effective way to help you stay well during cold and flu season.
Meghan Russell is a family medicine nurse practitioner at Aurora Bay Area Health Center, 4061 Old Peshtigo Road, Marinette. Her office can be reached at 715-732-8130.