Colds, viral bronchitis, & influenza
An Informational Resource for Patients and Interested Parties
Colds, Viral Bronchitis, & Influenza
Types of Viral Respiratory Illnesses
During the fall and winter seasons, classes resume for students and people in general are more crowded together due to cooler weather. Schools serve as large breeding grounds for colds (nasal discharge/stuffiness, headaches, sore throat), bronchitis (cough), and influenza. The students then pass the illnesses on to their families and in turn the general population. Influenza which is a much more severe illness mainly causes high fever, shaking chills, body aches, and a severe cough.
runny nose, congestion/blockage of the nose, headaches, sore throat with or without
fever, body aches, loss of appetite Nasal discharge: clear, yellow, green, or slightly bloody
cough with or without fever, central chest pain which is worse with cough, body aches
Sputum (the mucous that is coughed up) or "phlegm": clear, yellow, green, or even slightly bloody
High fever, shaking chills, severe cough, body aches, weakness, loss of appetite,
minor runny nose
Colds and bronchitis are interrelated and may be caused by the same virus at the same time, or the illnesses may occur separately. There are hundreds of viruses that can cause colds and bronchitis.
Influenza is caused by a much smaller group of viruses. Influenza can be life threatening if you have HIV/AIDS, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, arthritis, or diabetes or if you are over 60 years of age.
Treatment of Colds and Bronchitis
There is no definitive treatment at this time for viral upper respiratory illnesses like colds and bronchitis. Despite the availability of treatments for HIV, hepatitis, and herpes, treatment for the large group of viruses that cause colds and bronchitis remains elusive.
Antibiotics such as penicillin, tetracycline, or sulfa have absolutely NO effect on these viruses.
antibiotics may make you worse by causing a side effect such as diarrhea. If you take an antibiotic unnecessarily, the
next time you really need an antibiotic, the antibiotic may not work for you. Avoid the temptation to take a leftover
antibiotic or one that is offered to you by a family member or friend.
However, there are many treatments that may make one feel better. Note that these treatments are quite
different from those recommended for influenza (see below.)
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Drink plenty of fluids.
Fluid intake will keep your nasal secretions and your bronchial fluids thin and
easy to expel. Additionally the fever and loss of appetite that is associated with colds and bronchitis may
make you dehydrated. Dehydration itself can make you feel weak and bad. Drink enough fluid to make yourself urinate at the normal frequency and with the normal color. If your urine is bright yellow, you are not drinking enough. Any type of fluid will work with the exception of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coolers, etc.).
Take aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen
as directed for fever, pain, or body aches.
Always take ibuprofen or any aspirin-like drug with food to prevent stomach upset. Avoid aspirin-like medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.) if you have weakened kidneys. Avoid a lot of acetaminophen if you have liver problems.
Try pseudoephedrine or Sudafed-PSE as directed for nasal congestion.
must be requested from the pharmacist, but the newer Sudafed PSE is available on the pharmacy
shelves. Both of these drugs can provide relief of nasal congestion, but they may produce mild stimulation and difficulty sleeping especially if you take them late in the day. If you prefer, there are extended-release forms of pseudoephedrine available.
Use a nasal saline solution to flush your nose.
There are many brands available, and they can be
used frequently to cleanse your nose and moisten your membranes.
You need food energy to fight the infection. However, your appetite will often be poor, and food
Avoid the use of nasal decongestant nose sprays
except for possibly the first 48 hours of your illness.
These decongestant sprays are very addictive to your nose.
A bronchodilator inhaler may dramatically help your cough.
Your cough is a reflex which tells you
that you have excess secretions down in your bronchial tree. Many times there is accompanying
inflammation which constricts the bronchial tubes with or without wheezing (a high or low pitched tone
which can be heard when breathing in and/or out). The bronchodilator inhaler when used correctly
causes dilatation of the bronchial tubes which allows one to cough up more of the secretions. When the
secretions come up, there may be a diminished urge to cough. The bronchodilator inhalers (albuterol,
levoalbuterol, etc.) are very well tolerated, but because they are chemically related to adrenalin, they may
produce an increased heart rate and a mild hand tremor or shaking. This is always a temporary effect which gets better as you continue to use the medication. Although these inhalers are similar to some over-the-counter inhalers (such as Primatene), it is not recommended that the over-the-counter inhalers should be used. These inhalers require a prescription from your healthcare provider. Using an inhaler may be slightly tricky. Basically one activates the trigger for the inhaler at the same time as one inhales so that the mist is inhaled into the bronchial tubes. An inhaler actually increases your cough and occasionally this may trigger the gag reflex which results in vomiting. Although unpleasant this is not a particularly serious side effect.
Avoid smoking and smoky atmospheres.
Smoking adds insult to injury. Smoking can prolong a cold
for days to weeks. It is HIGHLY recommended that you temporarily cease all smoking or at least decrease your smoking dramatically. You might consider using this as an opportunity to stop smoking permanently!!!
Avoid the use of cough suppressant syrups if possible.
The cough is a reflex that needs to attended
to and encouraged. Suppressing a cough is not advisable from a common sense perspective unless the cough is so frequent and bothersome that one is unable to sleep. Occasionally a cough suppressant syrup might be useful to help one sleep for short periods of time.
Treatment of Influenza
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It is important that you see your healthcare provider if you have been exposed to someone with influenza or possible
influenza. If you are developing symptoms of influenza, you should see your provider as soon as possible or
go to an Emergency Department or urgent care center.
Treatment may involve fluids, medication for fever, and
antiviral medications that are specific for influenza such as oseltamivir.
Prevention of Colds, Bronchitis, & Influenza
Avoid persons who are ill.
If you must be near someone with a viral infection, avoid sleeping in the
same bed and wash or sterilize your hands frequently.
Wash or sterilize your hands frequently during the fall and winter.
You can carry an alcohol gel such
as Purell in your pocket and use it frequently after shaking hands, touching doorknobs, touching any
surface, and handling children. Make sure the alcohol gel is at least 60% alcohol. If you prefer to wash your hands, wash with soap and wash for approximately one minute or the time to say the alphabet quickly.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
The moist membranes in your eyes, nose, and mouth
are very sensitive to any virus that you may have on your hands.
If you are ill, stay home from work or school so you don't pass the virus to other people.
appropriate time to return to work is when you are no longer having to blow your nose or cough anything up.
If you are ill, wash or sterilize your hands
immediately after you sneeze or cough into your hand or a
Ask your physician whether you should take a vaccination for influenza each year.
If you have HIV/
AIDS, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis kidney disease, or diabetes, you probably should get
vaccinated. The vaccine is very well tolerated. A very small percentage of persons who receive the
vaccine may feel somewhat flu-ish for a few hours afterwards. This is very brief. The influenza vaccine is
a killed vaccine; it does not contain anything live. It cannot
cause influenza or colds. Sometimes people
will get a cold after they get the vaccine coincidentally. This is because the vaccine does not prevent
colds and colds happen frequently anyway. The vaccination and the cold are not related.
Smoking makes you more susceptible to colds and bronchitis. For this purposes of this
subject, smoking includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, marijuana or other drugs.
Notify your healthcare provider or go to an emergency department
if your immune system is
impaired (HIV/AIDS, cancer, liver disease, etc.,) if you have fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit,
shaking chills, severe pain, shortness of breath, large amounts of blood in your sputum, nausea and
vomiting, inability to take fluids or food, or confusion.
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