You may have heard that large doses of Vitamin C or Zinc help with preventing certain illnesses like colds, but there is no definite research that these things are actually effective. Try these methods instead…
- Wash your hands! FREQUENTLY!
- Get enough sleep! (Click here for more sleep details)
- Make time to de-stress everyday. (See more information about Stress)
- Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. (More about exercise)
- Don’t share food or drinks with anyone…even people who do not appear sick!!!
- Try not to share anything with anyone who is sick. This includes lip balm, food, utensils, towels, clothes.
- Remind people who are sick to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, clean up after themselves, and wash their hands frequently.
- Get vaccinated!… protect yourself against the Flu.
Crazy fact…Virus particles can travel up to 12 feet through the air when someone who has a cold coughs or sneezes.
The Very Common and Very Contagious Cold
The common cold is the most common infectious disease in the United States. On average, each teenager will suffer through about 2-4 colds per year. Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses, viruses that can get through the protective lining of the nose and throat. These rhinoviruses can survive on things you touch and in invisible droplets in the air for up to 3 hours! If exposed, your immune system reacts to these rhinoviruses by causing a sore throat, headache, and/or runny nose…along with any additional cold symptoms you may experience. Things like allergies, not getting enough sleep, stress, and not eating properly can lower your resistance to these rhinoviruses…thus making you more susceptible to developing a cold.
Colds usually last for about 1-2 weeks. Symptoms usually appear about 2-3 days after you are exposed to a specific rhinovirus or sick individual. If you do have a cold, you will be the most contagious for the first 3-4 days that you exhibit symptoms.
Since there is no cure for the common cold, treating your symptoms is the best way to work on feeling better. Make sure you make extra time for rest or sleep while you are sick to allow your body to recover. Upping your fluid intake helps your body replace fluids lost through a fever and the production of extra mucus during the cold. Sometimes a warm bath or heating pad can help with aches and pains as well. If the aches and pains are still bothersome, or if you have a fever, your doctor may recommend you try Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen).
Over the counter cold medicines are readily available everywhere these days. However, this does NOT mean you should use them. Usually your doctor will NOT recommend you use these. These medicines will NOT help you recover from your cold more quickly. They may help with some cold symptoms, but have the potential to cause other unwanted side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, insomnia, and/or stomach upset.
Usually a cold does not require special treatment from your doctor. However, here are some symptoms or signs you should contact your provider. Any of the following symptoms may warrant a visit to your doctor’s office.
- Any difficulty breathing…wheezing, history of asthma
- Cough lasting longer than 3 weeks
- Vomiting from your cough
- Chest pain
- Severe persistent sore throat
- Any ear pain
- Inability to eat or drink
- Any fever over 105 degrees Fahrenheit
- High fever lasting longer than 2 days
- Your symptoms seem to be getting worse rather than getting better after 3 days
Strep throat is a contagious infection caused by a bacteria called streptococci. The strep bacteria is present in the nose and throat of someone who is infected. It can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or sharing germs in any way with this person.
Common symptoms of strep include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen tonsils
- Trouble swallowing
- Stomach upset/nausea/vomiting
Usually strep is NOT accompanied by a cough or nasal congestion.
If you are experiencing these symptoms it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor. At your visit, your doctor will look in your throat, ears, and nose for any evidence of strep. He or she may perform a throat swab as well. A throat swab involves your doctor taking a sample of the mucus from the back of your throat. This mucus sample will then be tested for the specific strep bacteria. A rapid strep test will be performed…this takes about 5-10 minutes to get results. This rapid strep test is at least 91% accurate. If your test comes back positive for strep, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic for you to take. He or she may also recommend ibuprofen or Tylenol to help with your sore throat. Soothing foods like cool popsicles, cold drinks, and ice cream may also be helpful.
If this test is negative, a second test will be done to be 100% sure you are negative for strep. This second test takes a little bit longer…about 48 hours for final results. The sample from the back of your throat will be placed in an incubator and observed at 24 and 48 hours for any specific bacteria growth. If strep does not grow it is likely that your sore throat and other symptoms are caused by a viral illness.
Mononucleosis (also known as mono…the kissing disease)
Mono or mononucleosis is sometimes called the kissing disease because of how it is spread. EBV is spread from person to person by sharing saliva. You can become infected with EBV by kissing, sharing a drink, sharing food or utensils with someone infected with EBV. Even though they may not appear to have symptoms of mono this still puts you at risk for developing it.
Mono is most commonly caused by the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV). If you are infected with EBV this does not necessarily mean you will show symptoms. Many people who are exposed do not exhibit symptoms of mono. However, you will carry this virus with you for the rest of your life.
Common symptoms of mono include:
- Fatigue and/or feeling weak
- Sore throat
- Muscle and body aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Enlarged spleen
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of or decreased appetite
Someone who has mono may experience one or all of these symptoms, differing in severity. If you are experiencing these symptoms it is important that you contact your doctor. If mono or any other illness is suspected, you may be required to schedule an office visit to be evaluated.
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about how you’ve been feeling. He or she may perform a blood test that can determine if you are infected with EBV.
Since mono is caused by a virus, antibiotics like penicillin will not help. Usually the mono symptoms last about 2-4 weeks, some people experiencing them longer. The most helpful treatment for mono is lots of rest, treat any fever and aches with medications like Tylenol and Motrin, and maintain a balanced diet making sure you stay hydrated. Since a common symptom of mono is an enlarged spleen, your doctor will recommend you avoid physical activities like competitive sports while you are sick and for at least a month after the illness. An enlarged spleen can easily burst with activities like contact sports, weightlifting, and wrestling with friends or siblings. If your spleen bursts, this can cause internal bleeding and requires a visit to the emergency room.
When you do start to feel better, it is important to ease back into your normal activities. If you feel tired or want to rest, listen to your body! Remember to prevent spreading this illness to others! Clean up after yourself, wash your hands frequently, cover your sneezes, and don’t share food or drink with other people.
The Infamous Influenza Virus
The flu is caused by one of numerous influenza viruses. You can help protect yourself against the most prevalent flu viruses by getting the flu vaccine each season. The flu vaccine helps your body develop antibodies that protect you from certain strains of the flu virus. Why do you need a flu vaccine every year if your body has developed these antibodies? Influenza viruses mutate and change each season. In order to keep up with the change in flu viruses, new vaccines are developed each year, providing the most current protection.
By receiving the flu vaccine, you are reducing your risk for becoming infected with the flu. However, the flu vaccine does not provide 100% protection. This vaccine may help you experience a less severe case of the flu or you may become infected with a strain that is not covered by the flu vaccine. (Read more about the flu vaccine)
The flu virus can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air or on an object. If a healthy person is close by or touches the object, they are at risk for contracting the flu. A person who has the flu starts to be contagious 1 day before symptoms start and 5-7 days after they appear.
Common symptoms of the flu include:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches/pains
- High fever
- Runny nose
There is no cure for the flu and usually your body will recover on its own. If you have a history of asthma, diabetes, cardiac issues, or a history of lung disease you may be at an increased risk of developing complications from the flu.
You may need to see your doctor if you experience severe symptoms from the flu like:
- Difficulty breathing
- Fever over 105 degrees Fahrenheit
- Inability to eat or drink
- If your symptoms seem to be worsening after a few days instead of improving
Since there is no cure for the flu, it needs to run its course before you begin to recover. However, in the meantime you can treat specific symptoms. Your doctor may recommend tylenol or motrin for a fever or aches and pains. Increase your fluid intake to replace any fluids lost through fever or mucus production. Even though you may not be hungry it is important to keep your body fueled in order for it to have the strength to recover!