Are you one of those people who breaks out the hand sanitizer every time someone coughs? Do you time your trips to the grocery store for early morning or late at night to avoid the mass of sneezing shoppers? And still, wipe down the cart with an antibacterial wipe? All after wiggling and contorting your body in order to get a piece of clothing between your hand and the store’s door handle? Have you been known to avoid social gatherings because you know a friend or family member has been sick? Are you sometimes referred to as a germaphobe by family members, friends, or co-workers as a result of your answer to the previous question?
If you’ve shouted a resounding yes to any of these questions or if you’re nodding along to all of them at this point, just know that it’s okay. You’re not alone. Stay with me, I’m going to give you some valuable information and some well-deserved validation.
With my local hospital here in SW Washington reporting a record number of flu cases shuffling miserably through their emergency room doors and my blog partner’s daughter down with a vicious stomach bug, I’ve been thinking a lot about the amount and variety of illnesses going around. (Pausing here to send strength, prayers, and healing thoughts to Amy Vastine and her little one.)
Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard the word “flu” tossed around a bit this winter. But how do you know if you have it? If you have to ask, you probably don’t. A cold is typically some combination of congestion, sneezing, sore throat, coughing, and a headache. The flu is more like you have a bad cold AND you’ve been hit by a bus. Not to discount the hard-working rhinovirus (or its cold-causing cousins) because sometimes colds can be so nasty it’s difficult to tell. Experts here at WebMD say that usually with the influenza virus you will have a fever and often the symptoms come on quickly and severely.
Does it matter at that point, you might be asking? Sick is sick, right? Definitely! And when you’re curled up on the couch wishing you’d bought stock in Kleenex and it hurts to even blink your eyelids, all you want is someone to pass you the Nyquil so you can sleep until the evil passes. The distinction is important sometimes, though, because the influenza virus can lead to serious complications, like pneumonia. (If you get a bad cold that you suspect is the flu, you need to see a doctor.)
The “stomach flu,” on the other hand, that dreaded vomit-inducing scourge that rages through entire families in a single weekend isn’t really the flu at all. It’s gastroenteritis and can be caused by both viruses and bacteria (think food poisoning.) Again, if you’ve got it, you don’t care where it’s coming from you just want it to go away. But it’s helpful to know the difference so you can apply (or not) effective treatment.
But what happens when, despite all of your wiping, washing, and people-avoiding, you get sick with a cold or flu anyway? Aside from rest, staying hydrated, a good book and a warm blanket, here are a few other helpful hints and busted myths that apply.
*Antibiotics are not effective against either the cold or flu. (I think we all are aware of this one by now, but it never hurts to mention in case you’ve been living in a WWII bunker for the last decade.) There are a few antivirals available now like Tamiflu and Relenza that can shorten the severity and duration of the flu. None of these work on a cold, however.
*Vitamin C, zinc, Echinacea don’t prevent a cold or flu. I know a lot of people swear by these remedies and I don’t want to discount them. From what I’ve discovered, none of them can keep you from getting sick, but there is evidence that they may help you get better faster. And I’m onboard with that! For the price of these relatively inexpensive treatments and the other health benefits they provide, these supplements are nothing to sneeze at.
*Chicken soup for the soul and a cold? Yep. Turns out chicken soup is real, it’s delicious, and it can be helpful in easing cold and flu symptoms. Chicken soup (or any hot liquid) can help reduce congestion, it is hydrating, and it might even help with inflammation. (Shout out to Mom for force-feeding me Campbells in my weakest moments.) Check out this article from CBSnews.com for more detailed information.
*Over the counter medications (like NSAIDS, antihistamines, decongestants, etc.) can be helpful in relieving pain and other symptoms. There are a lot of powerful meds out there promising all kinds of relief for just about any symptom. The “cold and flu” aisle can be overwhelming. These pills can also be powerful and may come with side effects and/or drug interactions. It’s best to consult your doctor or pharmacist to find the one that will work best for you and your virus.
*Cough syrup is a waste of money. Okay, this one may just be my personal opinion. But I did find an article that said that drinking warm tea with honey is probably just as effective. Plus, with tea you get the added bonus of hydration. I’ve heard from reliable sources (thanks, Dad) that a shot of brandy or whiskey in the tea helps, too.
So, tell me, what lengths do you go to, to avoid catching something? Or maybe you just figure if you get sick you'll deal with it then? And when you or yours do get sick, what are your tried and true methods for relief?
For more information about Carol Ross, please visit her website: carolrossauthor.com