As I write this, the central heating is on and the leaves are turning brown. Today I will leave work in the dark. This is the beginning of the season of the familiar and tiresome viral upper respiratory tract illnesses. You will be lucky to escape one this winter.
Adults average two such episodes per year, teenagers four, and school age children more. They are transmissible between people by droplet infection. “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases” as countless viral particles are ejected from your inflamed nose and throat, and settle on table tops and shop counters, and smeared on to door handles off your hands. Another victim then touches these surfaces, and transfers the particles to their eyes, nose or mouth.
- WASH YOUR HANDS! (This may be why your doctors get less viral illnesses than many people!).
- Keep your hands away from your face.
- Use paper tissues and then bin them.
- Vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal remedies are of no value, except to increase the profits of the shop where you buy them.
You are unwell…
You may have a runny nose, sore throat, hoarse voice, cough. The virus may attack the whole of your respiratory tract from nose to windpipe, leading to these familiar symptoms.
You may have a fever, as your immune system gets going to repel the invaders. You feel shivery, or boiling hot and flushed, weak and listless. Headache is common, and may be related to dehydration after all that sweating with a fever.
You may have widespread muscle aches, joint pain and feel fatigued.
How to feel better…
There is no cure. Your immune system will deal with this on its own.
You can improve the way you feel:
- Regular paracetamol (2 tablets four times a day) or ibuprofen (400mg three times) lowers temperature and will help aches and pains. Proprietary remedies (eg Beechams Powders; Lemsip) often do not contain enough paracetamol, and are expensive. Stick to 2 paracetamol tablets and a cup of tea.
- Nasal decongestants (eg Otrivine) are very effective, but their effect is short lived, and prolonged use (more than a few days) can lead to dependence and rebound symptoms. Take care!
- Cough mixture is rarely effective.
- Drink lots of fluid
- Avoid strenuous exercise (but go to work if you feel well enough and it is rarely an excuse to avoid the household chores, husbands!)
Complications and when to see us…
- Prolonged illness. Fever lasting more than 4 days, particularly if you are particularly unwell, or there are drenching night sweats for this long
- Chest pain or breathlessness (as opposed to “tightness” or pain in the front of the chest on coughing) which may represent the uncommon but important complication of pneumonia. The patient that we see with this is usually more ill for longer than average.
NB – a cough and coloured sputum is not of itself a reason to see us if you are otherwise getting better.