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Winter-Cold

The winter “respiratory, cold, and flu” season is upon us. I have seen quite a spike in visits to urgent care with people suffering from coughs, nasal and sinus congestion, sore throats, and generalized achiness.

I believe that people, now, more than ever realize that there is no cure for the common upper respiratory infection also commonly known as “URI” or head and chest cold.

I am sympathetic to anyone who feels ill and I understand one’s desire to feel well as soon as possible, but there just is no quick fix to the common URI including bronchitis and sinusitis.

Unless one’s symptoms last longer than expected, as I will describe below, antibiotics will do no good and may even cause unwanted side effects and help to create germs that are resistant to antibiotics.

Here are some reasons why someone with URI symptoms should be seen by a doctor:

– You have a fever of 103 F or higher.

– You have any fever lasting more than three days.

– Your cough is associated with wheezing, chest pain, or shortness of breath.

– You are elderly or have a compromised immune system due to chronic disease or chemotherapy.

– You are basically well except that you have a cough for two to three weeks.

– Your sinus congestion with green nasal mucous doesn’t improve after 7-10 days.

Most all coughs, even with yellow or green mucus, are considered bronchitis and are caused by viruses which cannot be cured with antibiotics.

A recent large study concluded that bronchitis can last up to two or three weeks. If your cough lasts longer than this, you should see your doctor.

Another reason to see your doctor is if you have a cough associated with fever, shortness of breath, and feeling as if you’ve been “run over by a Mack truck” — then you could have either pneumonia or influenza for which treatment is available.

Regarding sinusitis, almost all sinus infections, even with green mucus production, begin as a common virus infection and will improve without antibiotics. If these symptoms last more than 7-10 days, then an antibiotic may be indicated.

When you do see your doctor, let them evaluate you by listening to what you have to say, examining you, and then determining what type of treatment is necessary to make you feel better.

P.S. It’s not too late for the flu shot. Influenza cases are just beginning in our area, and as is happening in other parts of the country, this disease may spread among us quickly. Better safe than sorry.

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Pneumonia is a potentially serious infection of the lungs, usually caused by viruses or bacteria.

As opposed to bronchitis, which is a relatively nonserious infection of the lungs’ airways, pneumonia infects the tissue of the lungs, filling the tiny air sacs with pus and other liquid. This reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the bloodstream.

Germs have the potential of spreading from the infected lung tissue into the rest of the body, causing septic shock and possibly death. Although this is not the common outcome, it still accounts for 60,000 Americans dying of pneumonia every year.

Pneumonia symptoms can vary significantly, depending on underlying health problems and the type of organism causing the infection.

More than half of pneumonias are caused by a variety of viruses. These are usually not serious and often last a relatively short time. Because a person with viral pneumonia tends not to be as sick as someone with bacterial pneumonia, such a person is usually “up and about” and therefore is often referred to as having “walking pneumonia.”

Symptoms of viral pneumonia include cough, fever, muscle pain and fatigue. Signs which often occur with bacterial pneumonia include shaking chills, high fever, chest pain and cough. Mucus may be present with either type of pneumonia but is more likely with the bacterial variety.

Pneumonia is not usually contagious.

One of the most common symptoms I see in patients with any form of pneumonia is the extreme fatigue, which can last many weeks after all other symptoms have cleared.

Risk factors for pneumonia are as follows:

  • Age — Adults 65 and older and very young children
  • Chronic disease, such as emphysema, diabetes and heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Recent hospitalization,  surgery or traumatic injury

Pneumonia treatments vary on the type and severity of the illness. Bacterial pneumonia will be treated with antibiotics. The entire course of antibiotics must be taken to prevent relapse and to prevent resistant strains of bacteria from forming. Viral pneumonia technically doesn’t need antibiotics, but because of the difficulty of distinguishing between the two, a health care provider will usually choose to err on the side of treatment, especially because viral pneumonia can sometimes turn into a bacterial infection.

In all cases of pneumonia, one also needs to control fever, drink lots of liquids and get plenty of rest.

Prevention of pneumonia is possible. Because pneumonia is a common complication of influenza, getting a flu shot every year is a good idea.

There is a false assumption held by many that getting a pneumonia shot will prevent one from getting any type of pneumonia. Not so. A pneumonia vaccine is available, but it is only effective for the pneumococcal pneumonia germ. It might not prevent one from getting this form of pneumonia, but having the vaccine can decrease the infection’s potentially fatal side effects. The vaccine is usually recommended for those who fall into the previously mentioned “risk factor” categories and can be administered any time after 2 years of age or at least once to anyone after age 65.

It’s a good idea to seek medical care if a person has a cough with shortness of breath, chest pain, chills and fever or feels much worse after a bout of cold or flu. Pneumonia is a serious infection, but for the average person, if it’s caught in time and treated properly, it should cause no lasting harm.

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