Doctor’s Tip: It’s the common time of year for colds
Viruses that cause the common cold (a.k.a. upper respiratory infection) become more prevalent as the weather gets colder. Typical symptoms include nasal stuffiness or runny nose, mild ear and facial discomfort, low-grade fever, mild aching, mild sore throat, mild generalized aching and mild cough. Sometimes the nasal drainage becomes a little yellowish or greenish, which is from the white blood cells that fight off the virus; this does not indicate a bacterial infection. Antibiotics can be lifesaving for serious bacterial infections such as pneumonia and meningitis, but are not effective against viruses, so don’t request them for cold symptoms.
Typically, colds resolve in seven to 10 days. Across-the-counter cold remedies are often associated with side effects (decongestants make many people feel wired, antihistamines cause drowsiness), and many people would rather have the cold symptoms than these side effects. The safest medication to take for mild fever and aching is acetaminophen.
Rarely, bacterial complications result from a cold. The following symptoms need to be checked out immediately: High fever and/or shaking chills could mean a blood infection. Chest pain, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing could mean pneumonia. A severe headache and/or stiff neck could mean meningitis.
A sinus infection, while not usually serious, usually occurs several days after onset of cold symptoms, and is manifested by pain in the cheek and teeth, usually on one side, and thick dark yellow or green nasal drainage all day long (not just first thing in the morning). A bacterial ear infection is usually manifested by worsening and persistent pain in one ear.
Nothing has really been shown to prevent colds, other than keeping your immune system in top shape by healthy diet, adequate sleep and stress reduction.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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