It’s the time of year for snow days, apple pie, and family gatherings, which inevitably means it is also the time of year for sniffles, coughs, and fevers. While people often chalk being sick up to having a common cold, there are other causes that need to be considered. The flu and strep throat are two additional illnesses that can strike those old and young. Knowing the difference is important because there are risks of potential long-term consequences that can be avoided with proper diagnosis and treatment.
The Common Cold
As the name implies, the common cold is, well, common. Also known as acute nasopharyngitis, this viral infection includes symptoms of a cough, sore throat, runny nose, and sneezing. Rarely does it include a fever, fatigue, or muscle aches. In terms of winter illnesses, acute nasopharyngitis alone doesn’t have long-term consequences and normally subsides in a matter of days to weeks. Because it is a viral infection, antibiotics will not be helpful, however are sometimes still prescribed. Luckily, it will pass on its own without treatment. With that said, symptoms can be irritating and interfere with daily obligations such as school and work, so symptomatic treatments are often welcomed. While there are plenty of over-the-counters, not everyone wants to take medications. In these situations, naturopathic treatments are a great option. At our clinic, we use a variety of vitamins and herbal medicines to help people bounce back quicker. We sometimes also use hydrotherapy, the use of water treatments, as a means to boost the immune system. Additionally, we have tons of great home remedy suggestions that can be used on the whole family.
Influenza, AKA The Flu
Ah the flu, a sickness dreaded much more so then the common cold. The severities of flu symptoms are more dangerous and debilitating than they are with acute nasopharyngitis. In addition to a cough, congestion, and sore throat, there are also symptoms of headache, muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, and a fever. The flu is harder for people to push through than the common cold. It is in this situation that it’s more crucial to have a doctor on board, not just for symptomatic treatment but also for preventative measures so it doesn’t worsen. People with the flu are at risk for further infections, including viral and/or bacterial pneumonia, sinusitis, and a worsening of chronic conditions like asthma and COPD. Complications of influenza and potential secondary infections can be fatal. This is most concerning in children, the elderly, and those with any type of immunodeficiency. Although this is the very worst case scenario, it is a reality that needs to be taken seriously.
Often times, the term strep throat is used as a self-diagnosis for a sore throat. However, the symptom of a sore throat does not necessarily mean it is strep. Strep throat is a diagnosis for a sickness caused by the group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus bacterium. Symptoms most commonly include fever, enlargement of the tonsils and lymph nodes, sore throat, and absence of a cough. Clinical picture along with an in office strep test or culture are used for diagnosis.
While strep throat often resolves within a few days, it does have the potential for further complications if not treated properly, particularly in children. Although rare, untreated cases of strep can turn into acute rheumatic fever, a condition involving the skin, joints, central nervous systems and heart. Again, although rare, heart complications can become chronic, leading to permanent damage. Although this sounds scary, it is rare and can be avoided with proper and timely treatment, but does goes to show that not all sicknesses should be taken lightly.
Staying Healthy During Winter
As can now be seen, not all winter illnesses are created equal. While none are fun, certain conditions carry different risks and complications, both acute and chronic. It is best to be properly evaluated to determine the most appropriate type of treatment. Also remember that you don’t have to wait to seek attention until you get sick. You can take preventative measures to keep your immune system nice and strong. Optimizing Vitamin D levels, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated and keeping well rested are all simple ways to stay ahead of the game.