Combatting flu season

With the cool winds blowing earlier this year, many people are preparing for the cold and flu season and with the influx of vacationers from the north a lot of viruses and bacteria come with them.

What starts as an itchy nose or scratchy throat soon becomes unbearable nasal congestion, sinus pressure, fever and headache making a person wonder if they can even get out of bed.

The first line of defence from these nasty infections is prevention, means frequent hand washing and avoiding contaminated utensils such as glasses. Virus and bacteria are spread as easily by direct contact as they are through the air. Prevention also means staying well rested, maintaining good nutrition, hydration and avoiding infection. Upper respiratory infections tend to affect those who are physically stressed.

Unfortunately, the old theory of mega doses of Vitamin C has been to shown to be of little value. On the other hand, when the diet is not the greatest, a daily vitamin supplement can be very helpful.

There has been some theory that zinc is helpful in preventing infections in the nose and throat. In the case of lack of trace minerals like zinc, it has been shown that deficient diets seem to allow easier infection of mucus membranes so adding trace minerals to a diet may be helpful. Here again, the use of large doses does not add any extra immunity.

Flu vaccine has been proven to be quite useful especially in susceptible populations such as the immunocompromised (people with weakened or decreased immunity because of a predisposing factor such as ongoing infection, etc.). There are about 50 different viruses that cause symptoms and they rotate through the human population on a predictable schedule. That allows scientists to predict the most likely infections for the upcoming year. A vaccine will impart at least a temporary resistance.

There are many medications to treat this malady. Choosing the proper one can be confusing. The most proven are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen and Ibuprofen. They can help with the aches and pains associated with infection.

Antihistamines have been used frequently for this problem. The major medical indication for these drugs is to block the allergic response. The problem is that flu and virus infections are not mediated by the allergic pathways. Symptom relief usually comes not from the ability of the medication to block allergy but from the drying effect caused by the medication. That creates a potential problem in that drying and thickening mucus in the sinuses may result in a secondary bacterial infection requiring antibiotics.

Other effective medications include decongestants which constrict the blood vessels in the swollen membranes allowing air passage and mucus clearance. The side effect here is the stimulation to the heart rate and blood pressure which can be significant. Sometimes insomnia develops with the use of this medication. Often that can be controlled by avoiding the medication 
in the evening.

Decongestant nasal sprays can be very effective but should only be used for short periods of two days or less because of the potential for tachyphylaxis which means the reverse effect on the air passage that occurs after about three days of use.

Antibiotics and antiviral medication has been used and overused to treat acute upper respiratory infection. The current medical intelligence indicates that in 90 per cent of people, the first 72 hours of the infection are almost always associated with respiratory virus for which there is no good antiviral medication. Antibiotics are only active against bacteria, so initial treatment for such infection may only lead to an infection later on that is harder to treat because of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

After the third day of an infection that has not resolved, it is time to seek medical evaluation. A physical examination will direct your physician as to the most useful antibiotic treatment. The antibiotic used to treat a developing sinus infection is different from the appropriate medicine for an infected throat or voice box. Prescription treatments for cough and congestion are also available.

Your physician is able to help you determine if there is an underlying cause for persistent or recurring infections.

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