When you’re fighting a cold or have the flu, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “let nature take its course.” While some patients might feel put-off by hearing this and look at it as if their physician is brushing off their illness and their concerns, this isn’t the case. Why? Because most common colds and flu viruses require little to no medicinal treatment. In fact, having a cold might actually be a positive thing for your health in the long-term, because it allows the immune system to exercise its function before hitting the reset button, so to speak.
If you’ve ever suffered from a cold (as all of us have) then you’re most likely aware of the terms viral and bacterial. Viral infections, which are caused by viruses, are rapidly producing parasites that are responsible for causing the common cold and flu bugs that we get. The most common type of cold and flu bugs are those that are viral – and when you have a viral infection you do not need to be treated with antibiotics. Bacterial infections, on the other hand, are considered to be much more serious and can cause things like throat infections (strep throat, for example), sinus infections and ear infections, as well as bronchitis and pneumonia. Bacterial infections should always be treated with antibiotics. The type of antibiotic prescribed depends on the type of infection you are dealing with. However, in most cases, you will be required to take antibiotics for 7 to 10 days to rid your body of the infection that is present. Sometimes one round of antibiotics may not be enough to kill the infection and patients will either require a second round (up to 14 days) of the same medication, or will need to be prescribed a different antibiotic all together if the first one is not effective. Generally, you should notice a decrease in symptoms around the third day of taking the medication. If you do not notice any change or are getting worse, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician from Vancouver, says it is important for patients to consult with their primary healthcare provider, as you may need your medication changed. It’s also possible to develop a sensitivity or an allergy from taking antibiotics. Common signs of an allergy include a rash, itching, and hives, to anaphylactic shock – which is considered life threatening and requires immediate medical attention as it can stop your ability to breathe.
If your cold or flu is simply viral, Dr. Ali Ghahary says there are a number of steps patients can take to effectively battle their illness and decrease their symptoms. The most important thing, says Dr. Ghahary, is to get plenty of rest. Sleep deprivation can result in poor functioning of the immune system, so without proper sleep you are less likely to get better quicker. Having good sleeping habits not only helps you fight off a common cold, but will also prevent you from getting frequent colds in the future. Secondly, increase your fluid intake (water and tea, specifically.) It’s very easy to become severely dehydrated when you are sick – especially with the flu – and you may require hospitalization for intravenous fluids if that dehydration becomes severe. By drinking water or tea, you not only keep your body hydrated, but it can also help break up congestion and soothe a sore throat, not to mention flush out any waste products from the body. You should avoid any beverages with sugar as they can suppress the immune system. If you have a fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, eat foods as you normally would but make sure you include extra vegetables and fruits. If your fever is over 100 degrees, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends abstaining from consuming whole foods and instead suggests opting for things like soups, broths, crackers and herbal teas until you’re feeling better and your fever has gone down. Aches and pains are also a common symptom in individuals with a cold or the flu. To reduce pain, you can take over-the-counter medications like Advil or Tylenol, as well as take warm soaks in the bath to reduce those aches and pains. Steam from baths can also help with nasal congestion. There are also many decongestants available on the market, however these only act as a band aid and don’t actually cure a cold. Too much use of a decongestant can lead to a condition known as rebound congestion, which will only make you feel worse.