The importance of healthy eating, getting enough exercise and going for regular check-ups appears to be a fundamental aspect of people’s lives today, more so in fact than at any other period in history.
While more serious illnesses may require specialist medical attention, minor illnesses such as colds and flu, while often debilitating and certainly frustrating, can be easily treated at home. Perhaps more importantly, they can be avoided altogether if sufficient preventative measures are taken.
Influenza, or “flu” as it is more generally known, is not only an extremely common illness, it is also unfortunately highly infectious. In simple terms, flu is a viral illness which is spread through coughs and sneezing as the germs are released into the atmosphere. It is quite different from the common cold in that it stems from an entirely different viral group. The symptoms of flu are generally much more serious and tend to last for considerably longer periods than those associated with the common cold.
Symptoms of Influenza
The symptoms of flu are relatively wide ranging and many may suffer from a just one or two of them while others can experience all of them. However, more often than not, the flu sufferer will experience a rapid increase in temperature. This will be accompanied by symptoms such as aches, pains, headaches, sore throats and feelings of tiredness. In more extreme cases, sufferers may also experience symptoms such as loss of appetite, heavy coughing and feelings of nausea. What is certain is that flu will leave the sufferer with little desire other than to spend their time in bed until the symptoms have passed.
The common cold, however, is as the name suggests vastly more prevalent than influenza. In fact, it is arguably the most common illness of all. According to studies carried out by the National Centre for Health Statistics (NCHS), more than 22 million cases are reported each year.
As yet, there is no established cure for this frustrating illness. As researchers often state, the principal reason behind this is that over 200 different viruses are the underlying causes of the common cold’s symptoms. Of these, the most potent is the rhinovirus, which causes an estimated 30 to 50 per cent of all cases of the illness. Other viruses involved include coronaviruses, which are believed to be the cause of some 15 percent of all colds and are said to be especially active in the winter and early spring.
For cases of influenza, a flu vaccine can be obtained through the NHS free of charge provided that you are pregnant; over the age of 65; suffer from a serious medical condition; work as a healthcare assistant or carer; or live in a nursing or residential home.
When it comes to the common cold, there are a number of palliative treatments available that will at least relieve some, if not all, of the symptoms. In addition to general factors such as resting and taking on plenty of fluids, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) also recommends using treatments such as petroleum jelly for raw noses, nasal sprays for blocked noses and aspirin for headaches.
However, they warn that non-prescription remedies (decongestants and suppressants) can cause side effects which far outweigh the positive effects and that they should be taken with care. In addition, the NIAID advises that antibiotics should never be taken for colds because antibiotics don’t, in fact, kill viruses and can simply lead to a number of irritating side-effects.
However, taking zinc, often in the form of a syrup, is now regarded as an extremely effective treatment for the common cold. Extensive scientific research conducted within the field has suggested that consuming zinc less than a day after cold symptoms are first experienced will significantly speed up the recovery process. The only thing that remains as yet unclear is the precise dosage required.
Both colds and flu can be avoided to a certain extent by taking a few simple measures. These include frequent hand washing and disinfecting. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends disinfecting hands using alcohol-based cleaning products. In addition, the NHS suggests that you should regularly clean and, ideally, disinfect surfaces that may have germs on them such as the telephone, the computer keyboard, door and window handles and other openers.
You should also always ensure you use a tissue when you sneeze to cover both the nose and mouth. Thereafter, make certain that the tissue is instantly and safely disposed of. Whilst it is clearly impossible for most people to avoid crowded locations, voluntarily entering them if you are run down or your immune system may in any way have been compromised is inadvisable. Taking honey for the relief of cough symptoms is widely recommended. Finally and perhaps surprisingly, despite a fairly widely held belief in its properties, the positive effects of vitamin C are yet to be scientifically proven.