At your family dentistry in McKinney, we want all of our patients to enjoy the very best health this cold and flu season. While brushing and flossing daily can help to reduce your risk for a number of chronic health conditions, the habits don’t do much to protect you from the airborne viruses that float around this time of year.
While everybody knows when they get sick, it’s not always as clear trying to determine if you have a cold or a case of the flu.
Both a cold and the flu are categorized as a respiratory illness, but the same virus doesn’t cause them both. Influenza, more commonly referred to as “the flu,” develops after a virus infects your entire respiratory system, including the throat, nose, bronchial tubes, and occasionally the lungs. In contrast, a cold generally only infects the upper respiratory tract: the throat and nose.
Of the two, the flu causes the more serious illness, and can include such symptoms as exhaustion, fever, body aches, congestion, headaches, and nausea, which rarely manifest with a cold.
Now that you know the difference between the two illnesses, here are the answers to a few more common questions about the flu.
When is Someone Contagious?
One of the reasons the flu becomes so widely spread at this time of year is the disease’s ability to remain dormant for several days. You can contract the flu and walk around for 24 to 72 hours feeling fine, but during that period you become contagious. However, since you don’t have any symptoms, you don’t realize that you’re spreading around the virus wherever you go. Once the symptoms begin, you need to stay at home for at least 24 hours after they have faded.
What are the Best Ways to Treat the Flu?
Once infected, there is no cure for either a cold or the flu. Certain types of prescription drugs may help to shorten the duration and severity of an illness, and tend to work better when taken within the first 48 hours of developing symptoms. Over-the-counter decongestants and cold medications can help to lessen the severity of your symptoms, but they won’t “cure” your flu. Some research has indicated that taking large doses of vitamin C (around 2,000 mg) within 24 hours of experiencing cold and flu symptoms may help to reduce the severity and length of an illness.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Many people believe they should visit the doctor when sick so they can obtain antibiotics. Unfortunately, taking antibiotics doesn’t help to treat the flu. Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria, and have no affect on viruses. You do need to visit a doctor when your symptoms take a turn for the worse, which could signal the development of a more serious condition, such as pneumonia. Schedule an appointment to see a doctor if you develop symptoms that include:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent fever
- Frequent vomiting
- Troubled or pained swallowing
- Persistent cough
- Intense headaches and congestion
Should You get a Flu Shot?
A flu shot consists of dead strains of the virus that cannot make you sick, but do trigger your body’s immune system to produce antibodies that will kill those strain of the virus if exposed again later. Healthy adults can do without a flu shot if they so choose, however, small children and the elderly are strongly encouraged to receive a shot. If you’re frequently around children and seniors, you may consider getting a flu shot for their protect, as well as your own.
How can You Prevent Getting the Flu?
Both cold and flu viruses transmit themselves in the same way, through tiny droplets that emanate from an infected individual’s respiratory system. When these droplets enter the air, contaminate a doorknob or countertop, or linger on a person’s hands, you can become infected by interacting with these objects, people, or environments.
To help protect yourself against the spread of these viruses:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Use a tissue whenever coughing or sneezing to cover your mouth.
- Resist touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. This helps to keep germs out of the body.
- Wash any objects your share with those who have become sick. Viruses can live on phones, keyboards, and mouses for hours.
Dr. Paul Lawrence at the rest of the staff at your family dentistry in McKinney hope the answers to these common questions help keep you and your family healthy this fall and winter season.