Game of Thrones may be over, but winter is still coming.
That means the dreaded cold and flu season is just around the corner.
“A visit with a clinician has become increasingly common for upper respiratory symptoms since the COVID pandemic,” Mark Fendrick, MD, a general practitioner at the University of Michigan, who is based in Ann Arbor, told Fox News Digital Michigan.
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“However, it’s much more likely that cold symptoms are self-limiting and require nothing more than your favorite home remedy,” added Fendrick, who has studied the common cold.
Although there is no specific treatment for the common cold, there are some cases where antiviral drugs are prescribed to treat the flu, the doctor noted.
“Doctors can only prescribe recommended treatment for specific causes that are less common than the common cold, such as antiviral drugs for the flu or COVID-19 or antibiotics for bacterial infections like strep throat,” Fendrick said.
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It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms that should alert you to seek medical help when you have a cold or flu this winter, she said.
Here’s what you need to know.
Differences between cold and flu
The common cold can be caused by up to 200 respiratory viruses, but the most common is rhinovirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
The flu is caused by influenza viruses that generally infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs, according to the CDC.
Colds and the flu share many of the same symptoms, which means that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the two conditions.
People are generally sicker with the flu, experts agree.
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Flu symptoms are more severe and appear more quickly than the common cold, which generally has milder symptoms.
“Colds and influenza can sometimes be complicated by pneumonia, bacteremia, and rarely even central nervous system involvement,” said Dr. James H. Conway, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of the immunization program at UW Health Kids in Madison, Wisconsin. . Fox News Digital.
When respiratory viruses infect the nose, the body responds by making mucus to help clear the viruses, according to the CDC.
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People may develop nasal congestion, which is more common with colds.
They may also experience sneezing, coughing or a sore throat.
Over the next few days, the mucus may change color to white, yellow, or green.
This color change is a natural progression of a cold, so antibiotics that fight the bacteria aren’t usually prescribed, according to the CDC.
Most people with a cold do not develop a fever, so the symptom combined with a headache and body aches may indicate the flu.
Cold symptoms usually peak within two to three days.
When to seek medical attention
Conway recommends watching for symptoms that indicate a cold or flu may have turned into a more serious infection.
These may include a higher fever, he said, since most viral infections do not generally cause this symptom.
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Other warning signs include shaking, rapid or labored breathing, and any kind of bad headache or confusion, he added.
“Any of these viral illnesses can also lead to ear infections or nasal infections,” Conway said.
In these cases, fever with ear pain or facial pain is often seen.
Most cold or flu illnesses last less than 10 days. but if symptoms persist and a person hasn’t improved by the end of that time frame, it’s important to see a health care professional, according to the CDC.
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If you’re not sure if your symptoms are serious, always talk to your healthcare provider, either in person or via a virtual appointment.
“The increased availability of telemedicine provides an opportunity for many people to describe their symptoms and other important clinical information (such as the presence of fever) without an in-person visit, so that their clinician can determine whether further treatment evaluation is needed in most cases. cases,” Fendrick told Fox News Digital.
Do you need Tamiflu?
People who are at high risk of complications from the flu should contact their health care provider early in their illness to determine if they should get a prescription for an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu.
This includes people aged 65 and over, young children, pregnant women and those who have had asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, heart disease or stroke.
Tamiflu can be prescribed within 48 hours of the onset of flu in people 2 weeks of age and older, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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The oral antiviral drug shortens the duration of the flu by attacking the virus and preventing it from multiplying in the body, the FDA added.
Complications of influenza in children
Adults should watch carefully for warning signs in children with the flu, experts advise.
“In babies, it’s more difficult, so poor feeding is another thing to watch out for,” Conway said.
Children with the flu may also begin to experience breathing difficulties.
Parents should take a child to the doctor or emergency room immediately if they notice the child’s lips turning blue or their ribs pulling in with each breath.
Complaints of chest pain also warrant a visit, according to the CDC.
Dehydration is also common among children with the flu, so parents should seek medical help if the child has not urinated for eight hours or has no tears when crying, the agency added.
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Other warning signs of an emergency are when young children become fussier or sleepier than usual, or if they are not alert or interactive when awake, according to the CDC.
The keys to prevention, Conway said, are getting flu shots and staying sick at home to prevent the spread.
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