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Colds, flu, bronchitis: fighting winter’s common illnesses

February 07, 2017

Cough … sniffle … sneeze. Groan … whimper … wheeze. It is the symphony of wintertime illnesses. If you find yourself with a winter bug, it is important to know what you can do to feel better and when you may need a doctor’s help.

Here is an overview of three common winter illnesses.

Colds

Although they do not always feel like it, colds are considered minor respiratory infections. Symptoms include sneezing, a runny nose, congestion, a scratchy throat, and coughing.

“To feel better, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids,” advises Ward Blair, MD, with Kettering Physician Network Primary Care at the Springboro Health Center. “You might also try an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever and decongestant. Usually there is no need to see your doctor. Do call, though, if you have a high fever, significantly swollen glands, severe sinus pain or a cough that gets worse.”

Flu

Like a cold, the flu is a respiratory infection caused by viruses, but it is potentially much more dangerous. Symptoms often come on quickly and include fever, headache, general body aches, extreme fatigue, and cough.

Treatment usually involves rest, fluids, and appropriate OTC medications. Most people with the flu recover on their own. But if you are very sick, call your doctor. Get help right away if you are experiencing trouble breathing, chest pain, or confusion.

“One of the best ways to avoid getting the flu is to get a yearly flu shot,” says Dr. Blair. “It is not too late to get a flu shot—check with your family physician.”

Acute bronchitis

Some of the same germs that cause colds and the flu can also lead to acute bronchitis, an infection of the tubes that carry air to the lungs. When these tubes become inflamed, they swell and mucus forms inside, making it hard to breathe.

Symptoms include coughing — which may produce clear, yellow or green mucus — wheezing, chest tightness and a mild fever. Acute bronchitis usually goes away on its own. Get plenty of rest and fluids. Consider OTC medicines if you have a fever. Some people feel better after breathing in steam or air from a humidifier.

See a doctor if the cough or wheezing continues for more than two weeks, if coughing produces blood, or if you feel weak or have a high fever.

Be healthy this winter

It is not always easy to stay well in the winter. Dr. Blair says to improve your chances:

• Wash your hands. You can easily pick up germs by touching something a sick person has touched and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

• Keep your immune system strong by eating healthy food, exercising, getting plenty of rest, and keeping stress in check.

And cheer up: Spring is coming.