With the cold and flu season well underway—and with family members, friends, coworkers, and others around us already succumbing to these ailments—many of us are resigned to the inevitability of getting sick, feeling miserable, and missing work, school, or other obligations. However, according to Shuhao Qiu, MD, an internal medicine physician with South Toledo Internists at the University of Toledo Comprehensive Care Center, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves and others around us from these viral illnesses or at least minimize the severity of symptoms.
Cold or flu? Know thy enemy!
In the battle against colds and flu, it can be helpful to know which illness you’re actually dealing with, but that can be challenging since both are respiratory ailments and both cause similar symptoms. Dr. Qiu explains, “It can be difficult to distinguish the common cold from the flu early on based on symptoms, but there are some signs to watch for. With the common cold, people usually experience runny, stuffy nose, sore throat, and headache, and these symptoms tend to be relatively minor. The flu, on the other hand, tends to be more abrupt and severe, and is more likely to cause whole-body muscle pain and fever in addition to the symptoms typically seen with colds.”
Consider underlying health conditions
For people with existing chronic health conditions, it’s important to be aware that a case of the flu can increase the risk of complications. “For example, in people with asthma, COPD, or other respiratory issues, the flu can bring on flare-ups or exacerbate breathing problems,” Dr. Qiu says. Also, make sure you’re compliant in taking any medications you’ve been prescribed for an underlying illness, even if you’re not feeling well. Missing a dose can have significant health consequences.
Dr. Qiu recalls a patient who has diabetes and high blood pressure and skipped her blood pressure medication one evening because the medication was in her car and she didn’t feel well enough to go out and get it. She started to experience tremors and sweating, which she attributed to low blood sugar, so she drank some orange juice to raise her blood sugar level. As it turned out, the actual problem was that her blood pressure was dangerously high, and she ended up in the ER as a result.
Know when to call your doctor
If your symptoms are relatively mild and you’re a generally healthy, active person, you can likely just wait out your symptoms. However, if you’re experiencing severe symptoms and whole-body muscle pain, it’s a good idea to call your doctor, especially if you have an underlying health condition such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. He or she may be able to reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms with an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu, as well as address any flare-ups or worsening of underlying health problems.
Also, if you don’t already have a primary care physician, you might consider choosing one—not just for the advantages during cold and flu season, but for the ongoing benefit. “Developing a relationship with a primary care physician is recommended because the more comfortable you are talking to your doctor, the more truthful you’ll be in discussing your symptoms and habits; and the more your physician knows about your health and lifestyle, the more he or she can maximize your treatment,” Dr. Qiu says.
Get your flu shot
The best thing you can do to prevent the flu is to get your annual flu vaccination. Each year’s vaccine contains the strains that health experts believe are most likely to be circulating and causing illness during the flu season. Not only will getting the flu shot help protect you from catching one of the flu strains included in the vaccine—as well as potentially reduce the severity of your illness if you are exposed to a strain not covered by the vaccine—but it will also help protect others around you who are more vulnerable to the flu and its complications, such as the elderly and very young.
Use commonsense health habits
In addition to getting vaccinated, practicing the following commonsense health habits recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will help protect you and others from colds and the flu:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and keep your distance from others when you are sick.
- If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If no tissue is available and you have to cough or sneeze, use the crook of your elbow.
- Wash your hands frequently. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school.
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.
The UT Comprehensive Care Center is located at 3333 Glendale, Avenue in Toledo. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Shuhao Qiu, please call 419-383-5614. ❦