Doctors are seeing an increased number of patients with symptoms of respiratory infections such as common colds, bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections and sore throats. I would like to review some important points regarding these common infections, along with their recommended treatments.
Everyone has, at one time or another, experienced a common cold that carried symptoms such as nasal and sinus congestion, a runny nose, a mild sore throat and cough. This common infection may last from a few days to one to two weeks. It is always caused by a virus — therefore patience, not antibiotics, is the main treatment.
Bronchitis can be thought of as any cough that is not caused by pneumonia or asthma. The main symptom of bronchitis is a cough without a fever. People with bronchitis usually just have a cough and do not feel particularly sick and are able to continue their normal daily activities. One can expect coughing from bronchitis to last from one to three weeks.
Again, this is a viral infection, and antibiotics are not necessary. If a cough lasts more than several weeks or is associated with fever, it would be wise to visit your doctor.
Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses, which are air-filled pockets around the nose in the skull. This infection is usually preceded by a common cold. It, too, is usually caused by a virus, but after lingering for one to two weeks can turn into a bacterial infection.
One of the key factors in determining the proper treatment for a sinus infection is the duration of the symptoms. If you’ve had a cold for one to two weeks and are experiencing pain or pressure in your sinuses along with yellow or green nasal mucus and perhaps a fever, then antibiotics may be helpful.
A sore throat is often a symptom of a cold, but can sometimes be a bacterial strep throat infection. A good rule of thumb is that if a sore throat is associated with a bad head cold, and especially with a cough, it is usually caused by a virus and needs no prescribed treatment.
If, however, one has a sore throat without cold symptoms or cough but with a fever and a past history of strep infections, then the most likely culprit is the strep germ, which needs to be treated with antibiotics. Strep is much more common in children than in adults. Many people go through life without a single strep infection.
Over-the-counter medications for adults can be helpful in alleviating the miserable symptoms of respiratory infections. The following are the basic ingredients of all the myriad combinations of cold and flu drugs found on pharmacy shelves:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) may be used to reduce fever and to ease aches and pains.
- Pseudoephridine (Sudafed) is a decongestant to help relieve nasal and ear congestion.
- Guaifenesin (Robitussin or Mucinex) is an expectorant to help loosen mucus. (Dinking lots of liquids may work just as well.)
- Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, which might help ease a persistent cough.
- One may purchase a sinus rinsing system called Neil Med, which can be found at all pharmacies. This is a natural treatment using a salt-based solution to flush out the sinuses, helping clear out mucus. I have found this to be one of the very best treatments for bad colds and sinus infections.
See your doctor if you have a fever for more than three or four days, or if your fever is 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Your doctor will determine whether antibiotics are necessary to treat you. At the very least, your doctor may prescribe medication that will help treat your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable.