Common Cold and Flu
Most people do not know the difference between the common cold and the flu. This is probably due to the fact that both infections affect the respiratory tract and cause similar symptoms.
Although the common cold can be bothersome, it is a benign condition that causes symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and cough. As the infection progresses, the volume of secretions may increase, turning a dry cough into a productive one. Bed rest, when possible, is recommended for anyone suffering from a cold. To help relieve symptoms, the patient should also drink plenty of fluids and increase humidity levels in the home as needed.
The flu, also called influenza, is a much more serious acute viral infection that affects the entire body. Symptoms typically include fever, chills, body aches and pains, weakness, and headache. Once the flu resolves, fatigue, chest pain and cough often persist for several weeks. Complications may include bronchitis and pneumonia.
Can cold environments cause a cold or the flu?
YES AND NO. Although it is true that there are more cases of cold and flu infections during the colder months, temperature is not solely to blame. The start of the school year promotes the spread of viruses and young children are often more susceptible to these viruses. Cold weather makes us spend more time indoors and in closer contact with individuals who may be infected. It is not yet known why some people are more prone to these types of infections than others.
Are there effective ways of preventing colds and the flu?
Basic hygiene, combined with a few specific precautions, can be helpful. Infected people can spread the virus into the air when they talk, sneeze or cough. You can catch the virus by putting your hand to your nose after shaking hands with an infected person or by using their phone. Hence, anyone with a cold or the flu should wash their hands frequently and avoid sharing personal objects.
Fatigue and overexertion alone cannot cause someone to catch a cold or the flu, but they can make people more susceptible to infection. Smokers appear to have more serious episodes and more severe symptoms (chest pain, cough).
What about vaccination?
There is a vaccine against the FLU but not the common cold. The common cold can be caused by more than 200 viruses, making it impossible to develop a vaccine. The influenza vaccine (flu shot) is made with the virus strains deemed most likely to cause disease during the upcoming flu season. It is administered in the fall and should help prevent the flu or at least lessen flu-related complications and illness severity.
For some, the flu and its related complications can be quite serious. The vaccine is mainly recommended for pregnant women, residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities, individuals 65 years of age and older, children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, and Indigenous peoples. Those with immune compromising conditions or who have cardiac, pulmonary or renal disorders, cancer, diabetes, anemia, neurologic conditions or morbid obesity should also be vaccinated.
In addition, the vaccine is recommended for all those who are in contact with these people or with an infant less than 6 months.
What is the role of antibiotics and vitamin C?
Antibiotics such as penicillin are useless against viral infections. They are effective against bacterial infections only. In addition to being ineffective, they may even be harmful when given to patients with colds or the flu. It should be noted, however, that individuals who develop sinus pain or an earache, a cough with greenish secretions or fever lasting more than 4 to 5 days, may have a bacterial infection. In such cases, medical advice is recommended as antibiotics may be indicated.
Some people believe that vitamin C can be used to prevent the common cold. Studies have shown however, that even massive doses of vitamin C cannot prevent the common cold or the flu. It is also unlikely that vitamin C can reduce the severity or the duration of the infection.
What about cold remedies?
There are many multi-ingredient "sinus" formulas currently on the market. These products may appear useful because they act against a variety of symptoms, but in reality, most people do not need all these ingredients at the same time. Symptoms should be addressed one by one, using the best product, at the right dose and for the appropriate duration.
Ask your pharmacist: he is trained to help you!
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.