It’s called the common cold for a reason: every year nearly all of us succumb to at least one case of the winter sniffles.
For most adults, it’s two or three colds, while children get between six and 10 colds per year. Influenza is more severe, but not as widespread: about one percent of New Zealanders see their doctor about the flu annually.
How to tell if it’s a cold or the flu
While colds still remain something of a mystery to science, the symptoms are all too familiar:
Blocked and/or runny nose
The flu, on the other hand, hits rapidly and is characterised by a high fever and feeling extremely tired. You may find yourself shivery, with a painful headache and aching muscles.
Unlike for the common cold, you can be immunised against the flu each year. Flu shots are available at your local Unichem if you’re aged 18-plus – just come in when it’s convenient, no appointment necessary.
Treating the symptoms to get on with life
A cold or the flu can make you feel miserable, but there are plenty of ways you can ease your symptoms. Day-and-night cold and flu tablets, cough mixture and nasal spray can be very useful for helping you feel better as the virus makes its way through your system.
For a sore throat, have a sheet of lozenges at hand or a throat spray to numb the pain, and for more general pains, paracetamol is usually effective. Watch out for a double-up though – if you’re already taking a day-and-night tablet, you’re probably getting plenty of paracetamol already.
Top tips for preventing and spreading a cold
The best idea is to keep your cold at home but most of us don’t stay home from work to rest. If you do go to work, here are some steps to take to keep from getting someone else’s cold or spreading yours:
Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soapy, warm water – carry an alcohol based hand sanitiser for times when a sink is not available.
Try to keep your hands away from your face. Rubbing your eyes, touching your nose or biting your nails will all transfer viruses into your body. Use a tissue whenever you sneeze or cough.
Get vaccinated against influenza as early in the season as possible.
Try an immunity support supplement such as zinc, garlic, olive leaf, vitamin C, or one that combines a number of these ingredients. Zinc, in particular, is one of the most effective cold-fighting supplements.
Quit smoking – cigarettes may make you more vulnerable to colds, and they prolong a cold’s duration.
Eating and sleeping well, plus regular exercise, will keep your immune system strong.
When to go to the doctor
Because both illnesses are caused by viruses, antibiotics won’t get rid of a cold or the flu. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to see a doctor. It’s possible to get secondary complications, and they can turn serious. If you have symptoms of a cold or flu for more than a week, your symptoms take a turn for the worse, or you have a cough that just won’t go away, see your doctor. Babies and young children, pregnant women and the elderly should visit the doctor at the first sign of suspected flu.
Looking after snotty-nosed kids
The younger the child, the more difficult it is to treat their cold, particularly because few medications are safe for youngsters. If your baby or toddler has a cold, try these tips:
Start with lots of fluids and plenty of rest.
Use steam to loosen up mucus and ease a cough. Vaporisers, available from your Unichem pharmacy, are one option or take your child into the bathroom when you have a shower.
Squeeze the mucus gently out of your child’s nose with a tissue, rather than wiping it across their face – this helps prevent a sore nose and face.
Try an aspirator – these little devices comprise a bulb and suction nozzle, and can be quite useful to suck mucus from little nostrils, particularly before breastfeeding.
Saline drops are another good option that can be used as often as you like to clear the sinuses.
Paracetamol is a useful way of helping reduce fever in children – ask your Pharmacist for the correct dosage.
When your child has a virus, wash their cuddlies and favourite soft toys and wipe down surfaces regularly to prevent reinfection.