Overview of cold and flu
On a regular basis, people are unaware of cold and flu infections that grow within the body. Due to their apparently benign nature, cold and flu do not get attention in the initial stage. In this stage, the viruses and bacteria take advantage of the weak body immunity and enter the human body. In more advanced stages, these pathogens multiply within the body and attack the immune system, predisposing the body to future infections of severe nature. The number of influenza or “flu” cases reported every year lie between 3-5 million. Out of these, 290,000- 650,000 will result in the death of the patient. This shocking figure has alarmed doctors worldwide and they strongly recommend immediate diagnosis as soon as any symptom of cold and flu is detected.
What is cold or common cold?
A common cold is a seasonal infection which is caused by viral or bacterial agents or due to several allergens present in the air.
It is normally manifested as fever, cough and cold, runny and itchy nose.
Common cold affects mainly the upper respiratory tract.
It does not attain a severe form if diagnosed on time.
What is flu?
Flu is typically associated with influenza. It is a viral infection that attacks and damages the respiratory tract, affecting the lungs, throat, and nose. It is usually mediated by the influenza virus (Type A, B or C). Flu is accompanied by fever with intermittent chills, lung congestion, headaches, body-aches and few other obvious symptoms. Flu, like the common cold, is also seasonal. But it is far more severe than a common cold.
It can persist even after strong medications and can destroy the immune system permanently. Flu is usually very contagious and must be diagnosed carefully.
What causes cold and flu?
The causative agents of cold and flu usually reside in the environment.
The most commonly detected causes of cold and flu are listed below-
- Seasonal influenza virus (types A, B or C) that is present in the air especially during Winter
- Few bacterial species like Haemophilus influenzae can result in severe cold and flu infection.
- Infections can be caused due to living in unhygienic conditions like – not washing hands before eating, keeping food items (especially fruits) exposed to open air for a long time and living in extremely polluted environments (For example, industrial areas).
- Conditions of the body such as sleeplessness, extreme fatigue, weakness due to prior infections and excessive physical stress and strain can easily predispose it to viral or bacterial infections.
- Climatic or weather conditions can trigger the pathogens to invade vulnerable bodies. For example, level of the flu virus is higher in humid and tropical regions than in others.
- Addictive habits like smoking and alcohol consumption can worsen an existing cold and flu
- Overdose of few antibiotic drugs can make the body susceptible to future infections
- Diet deficient in Vitamin C can lead to lack of immunity against infection
It is mandatory to conduct a thorough diagnosis to pinpoint the exact cause of a cold and flu infection. Hasty intake of antibiotics or other drugs is strongly forbidden.
What are the common symptoms?
The symptoms of cold and flu can range from mild to severe depending on the degree of infection caused. The easily identifiable symptoms are
- Persistent or intermittent fever
- An extreme headache accompanied by tightness around the temple region
- Body aches with occasional chills
- Inflammation of nose, eyes, and throat along with constant irritation and pain
- An extreme cough accompanied by the production of thick and sticky mucus
- Lung congestion and bronchial infection in extreme cases
- Stuffy, itchy and running nose accompanied by sneezing
- A compressive feeling in the chest
- Fatigue and extreme weakness
- Nausea and digestive disorders in rare cases
- Disturbed sleep cycle
- Sudden fluctuations in mental states, irritation, and occasional seizures
- Muscular pain due to constant coughing
The difference between cold and flu
Patients are often misdiagnosed due to lack of adequate knowledge of the differences between symptoms of “cold” and “flu”. Although in most cases, the symptoms are almost similar, but they vary in intensity. Listed below are few manifestations that will completely eliminate chances of misdiagnosis-
- In common cold, the occurrence of fever is rare. Even if fever occurs it is intermittent in nature and cures within a very short span. On the contrary, flu is always accompanied by a high fever which persists for 3-4 days.
- Headaches and body pains are more common occurrence in flu than in common cold
- In common cold, fatigue and weakness can occur, but the patient recovers very fast. But in case of flu, extreme fatigue occurs and it persists for about 2-3 weeks.
- Nasal congestion, sneezing, and throat inflammation are the main characteristics of common cold, though they might be observed in rare cases of flu.
Does cold and flu run in families?
It has been observed that few people are more vulnerable to infections caused under similar circumstances than others. But the role of genes in determining a person’s susceptibility to diseases is still debatable and is under research.
Long-term effects of cold and flu
Cold and flu if neglected or misdiagnosed can eventually lead to severe disorders like asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia and permanent cardiovascular disorder.
Treatment & Prevention
The importance of washing your hands and keeping them germ-free cannot be overstated here as this method is most effective in getting rid of the maximum virus. The most common areas through which the germs spread are doorknobs, telephones, computer keyboards, faucets, and toothbrushes. Make sure after every time you touch these, you sanitize your hands. Eyes, nose, and mouth are the common regions where the virus can enter your body. Avoid touching them if there if people around you are infected with the common cold. Nicotine is the worst aggravator of a sore throat. It irritates lung and throat and thus smoking must be prohibited at every cost. Keep two things away – sugar and stress. These will suppress your immune system and make you more vulnerable to cold and cold-like infections.
The long-lasting effects of cold and flu cause excessive damage to the body. It can even cause seasonal epidemics which attack people belonging to all age groups. Doctors particularly warn people against cold and flu of contagious nature by recommending preventive measures to resist infections. Avoiding direct contact with people already infected with cold and flu can regulate the spread of the disease to a considerable extent. Maintaining proper hygienic conditions is also mandatory. The educational institutes and health organizations should actively advocate the practice of healthy and sustainable living to enable each and every individual to combat cold and flu infections.
Cold and flu home remedies
There is a number of ways by which you can treat the symptoms of cold and flu at home. Things that help in clearing nasal congestion and boosting immunity are great home remedies for cold and flu. One of nature’s best weapons against such infections is ginger. Ginger helps to destroy the rhinovirus which causes maximum cases of colds. Having ginger extract with warm water can help soothe the symptoms.
Similarly, warm lemon tea with honey also works wonders. Lemon and honey are natural bactericidal and also help in reducing inflammation. Other kitchen ingredients that can help boost your immunity are garlic and yogurt. Yogurt is a probiotic, i.e; it helps in increasing the healthy bacteria in your gut that in turn strengthens your immune system. Adding a pod of raw garlic in your daily diet will also help fight cold better.
It is also advised to gargle with warm saline water and use an air humidifier in your room. Dry air worsens the symptoms of cold and flu. The saline water will also help in removing pathogens from the throat.
- The common cold can be caused by 100 different types of virus, amongst which the rhinovirus is responsible for almost 50% of all incidences.
- Studies reveal that in the USA alone there are almost 1 billion cases of colds every year.
- Within a time interval of 24 hours, a single common cold virus can spawn a whopping 16 million offspring.
- Almost 100,000 germs are released in the surrounding air with just one sneeze.
- Common spots where most germs accumulate are telephones, workstations, doorknobs, and computer keyboards.
- Contrary to popular belief, getting a flu shot will not give you the flu.
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Dos and Don'ts
- Drink plenty of fluids and avoid dehydration.
- It is advisable to stay at home so that you get the required rest and don’t spread the germs.
- Wash and sanitize your hands as much as possible.
- Completely skip gym but don’t indulge in too intensive workouts.
- Indulge in smoking and drinking as they can suppress your immunity and worsen the infection.
- Resort to self-medication. Don’t try to treat these with antibiotics.
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