It’s a fact of life that during the colder part of the year, the more senior members of society are likely to develop various ‘winter ailments’ – mostly caused by germs.
Why does this happen?
Well, it’s partly because exposure to cold weather lowers your defences against viruses. When the temperature goes down towards freezing point; your nose starts losing its ability to repel these little ‘bugs.’ So they cheerfully make their way in!
Also, people tend to crowd together more in winter ‘particularly in buses, trains and shops. Regrettably, a lot of them are likely to cough or sneeze all over you, and you pick up an infection.
Unfortunately, a cold does not give you immunity against further infections. This is because there are over 100 different ‘common cold viruses’ ‘and getting one of them doesn’t give you protection against all the rest. So if you’re unlucky, you could catch two colds in quick succession. There’s an old medical saying: ‘A treated cold lasts a week’ but an untreated one lasts seven days.’ In other words, there’s no cure for the common cold. But you can ease the symptoms a lot by using things like:
Steam inhalations, Aspirin, Paracetamol, Ibuprofen
Penicillin and other antibiotics have no ‘repeat no’ effect on colds. This is because antibiotics only kill BACTERIA ‘not VIRUSES. So there’s no point in going to your doctor for treatment of a cold.
Some people swear by vitamin C, and there’s no harm in trying it, but latest research suggests that it probably doesn’t have any genuine effect, though if it’s taken as soon as symptoms occur, it may shorten the duration of the cold. The symptoms can be alleviated by washing the nose out with a solution made up of half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to a litre of (comfortably warm) water. Any health professional can show you how to do this.
Prevention: The one sure way of avoiding colds is to keep away from other people. You can’t catch a common cold unless there’s somebody to give it to you. That’s why solo Arctic explorers never get colds!
Sore throats are spread around in much the same way as colds ‘in other words, by people coughing, sneezing and spluttering, especially when they don’t use a hanky! Various germs can be responsible, some of them fairly trivial viruses, but some of them rather more serious.
Smoking is frequently a major factor in causing sore throats, since the delicate membranes of the back of the throat weren’t built to have cigarette smoke drawn across them.
Do not to buy sore throat remedies containing local anaesthetic. They numb the throat, but can sometimes cause a nasty sensitivity reaction. Most sore throats do not respond to penicillin or other ‘ABs’. But if your symptoms go on for more than a week, see your doc and she will tell you whether any antibiotic medication is needed.
Prevention: To avoid sore throats, the principles are the same as we’ve mentioned for colds. Avoid crowded, enclosed places, and do not smoke.
Unlike colds and sore throats, coughs can be due to all sorts of different causes. Also, some coughs are caused by medication ‘particularly certain pills for high blood pressure.
In winter, many coughs are due to infections in the upper part of the respiratory tract ‘that is, behind the nose. Mucky stuff drips down the back of the throat and irritates the larynx (voice box). A lot of winter coughs are due to infections in the lower respiratory tract’ like bronchitis or even sometimes pneumonia.
A few are due to heart problems. And in smokers, there is always the worry that a cough that just won’t go away could be due to lung cancer.
Coughs are either non-productive (that is, dry) or productive (i.e. making you bring up sputum). Chemists will generally ask you which of these two types of cough you have before recommending a medication. Some coughs cause a lot of pain in the chest, and where this happens you should consult a doctor. If you cough up any blood, you definitely must see your GP within a few days ‘just in case there is anything serious wrong. You should consult your GP if a cough drags on for 10 days, or if it is causing you pain or distress, or if you are bringing up a lot of green or yellow phlegm’ this usually indicates bacterial infection.
Prevention: Don’t smoke. And stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing!
Sinusitis is really common, especially between December and April. It’s an inflammation of the sinuses ‘which are the little air cavities located inside the bones of the face. All of these air spaces are connected with your nose ‘which is why germs can easily get into them and cause inflammation.
Sinusitis causes pain in the face or forehead, a badly blocked-up feeling, and often fever and sensations of giddiness. Sufferers frequently complain that they feel absolutely awful. If you think you’ve got sinusitis, begin by dosing yourself with aspirin or paracetamol, plus a ‘decongestant’ from your chemist But if the symptoms persist for a few days, you will need to go to your general practitioner.
Prevention: This is difficult. If you’re prone to sinusitis, try to avoid crowded, germ-ridden places! At the first hint of an attack, use a good decongestant. If you know how to wash your nasal passages out with saline or a bicarb solution, then do it.
Flu comes around every winter ‘but it’s far worse in some years than in others. It usually causes somewhere around 12,000 deaths per winter ‘and it’s important to realize that the majority of these fatalities are in the over-50s. So you need to take care and protect yourself!
What about influenza pandemics (that is, really widespread epidemics), like the notorious Spanish ‘flu of 1919 which devastated Europe and America? And it could possibly be the avian (bird ‘flu) type ‘though this depends entirely on whether the virus that kills birds manages to change its nature, so that it can spread like wildfire among humans. The symptoms of ‘flu are generally like those of a cold’ only much, much worse.
Features usually include headache, sneezing, Runny nose, aching all over, high temperature and cough. In some types of influenza, you also get ‘tummy symptoms’ like abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. This is often referred to as ‘gastric ‘flu.
If you get ‘flu, stay at home and go to bed. Do not even think of trying to travel to work, because you will only spread the germ around. Drink plenty of fluids, and use paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen. If you’re feeling really rough, ring your doctor’s surgery for advice, and tell them your symptoms. Because influenza is caused by a virus (and is therefore unaffected by antibiotics), GPs do not routinely give penicillin or other ‘ABs.’
However, if the doctor thinks you have developed a ‘secondary’ bacterial infection as a result of the ‘flu’ and that is common ‘he will give you an antibiotic.
Prevention: Everybody over 65 (and a lot of people with chronic health problems) should make sure that they have the ‘flu jab each year. Recently, some researchers have cast doubt on the value of this vaccine’ but the overwhelming majority of doctors believe in it.
By: Hina Adeel