‘Tis the season for sniffles, sore throats, and fevers. Through a combination of environmental factors, weather patterns and even genetics, your chances of getting sick go up during the fall and winter months. It’s almost inevitable that we’ll all get hit with something. But as if that wasn’t bad enough, despite being very different, the most common illnesses share enough symptoms that it’s not always possible to identify what you’re suffering from initially.
Consider, for example, three of the most common illnesses that spread during the fall and winter: the common cold, the flu, and strep throat. Would you be able to recognize if you were suffering from one versus the other? These illnesses share very similar symptoms - but also require different treatment and prevention strategies. So identifying what you have and what to do about it is a critical part of beginning to recover.
To help your family prepare for each of these illnesses this season, you can use the following information to help you start to identify what you are most likely dealing with on your next off day:
- The Common Cold: What we know as the common cold is an illness caused by hundreds of similar viruses. Cold viruses usually settle in slowly, causing only a few issues at first and growing stronger after a couple days. Symptoms of a cold include a sore throat; sneezing; a stuffy or runny nose; a cough; mild headaches; mild body aches; and watery eyes. Fortunately, a cold is usually a short-lived illness, lasting as little as a few days. Unfortunately the symptoms can also linger for as long as two weeks - and you can be contagious as long as a week after you first show symptoms. So if you develop cold-like symptoms, it’s important to minimize other people’s exposure to your cold germs. Getting plenty of bed rest and drinking plenty of water, juice, and soup will help with your recovery, and treating your symptoms with OTC medicine will make you more comfortable and help you sleep.
- The Flu: The flu is also caused by viruses, but unlike the hundreds that cause the cold, there are only several flu viruses. Also unlike a cold, cases of flu develop relatively quickly, causing exhaustion, fever, painful muscle aches, and a cough. While these symptoms are similar to that of a cold, the flu carries a much bigger risk of causing additional health complications such as strep throat, pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections. These complications are especially problematic and likely to affect the elderly or the very young (children under the age of 5). Because of this, if you or a family member is ill, it’s important to monitor your or their temperature; you should then seek medical attention promptly if you’re dealing with a persistent fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit that lasts more than three days. Painful swallowing, never ending coughing that lasts more than several weeks, and chronic congestion or headaches should also be evaluated by a medical professional. The good news, though, is that while the complications and risks need to be taken seriously, many flu cases often begin to clear up on their own with rest - no medical treatment necessary. Just like a cold, getting plenty of bed rest and drinking plenty of water, juice, and soup will help with your recovery, and treating your symptoms with OTC medicine will make you more comfortable and help you sleep.
- Strep Throat: Unlike colds and the flu, strep throat is caused by a bacteria, streptococcus. Strep is problematic because it presents with very similar symptoms as a cold - primarily, a sore throat. It’s most likely to affect children aged 5 to 15, although anyone can catch it. Diagnosing and treating strep will ultimately require a medical professional’s expertise and antibiotics; not treating strep risks serious complications, including a fever that harms the heart valves. Because of this, it’s important to get medical attention promptly if you or a family member are dealing with a sore throat that is not improving; a sore throat that makes it exceptionally painful to swallow; or a sore throat presenting with white spots inside the throat. With antibiotics, strep is usually cured within ten days.
Though each of these illnesses share a symptom or two, recognizing their differences is critical as we and our children prepare to embark deeper into the fall and winter months. By knowing what to look for, you’ll know when to contact your physician and when to curl up in bed for some rest, relaxation, and recovery time.
If you have questions about your or a family member’s health needs this season at any time, please reach out to your Genesis Medical practice or physician. You’re also invited to contact your offices to learn more about our walk-in hours, which will ensure that you can receive the help and advice you need at the time when you need it most!