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Cold and Flu (Influenza): Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Influenza refers to the infectious disease affected people seasonally. It is caused by virus triggering several symptoms in the body. The signs can range from mild to severe. You can start experiencing the symptoms two days after getting exposed to the virus. The signs may remain for at least a week while the coughing persists for two weeks. In most of the cases, taking rest and drinking fluids alone can help you bounce back. But, in some cases, you need medical treatment. Read ahead to know about cold and flu, which is common in all parts of the world.

What Is Influenza?

InfluenzaInfluenza refers to the viral infection that attacks your respiratory system. So, you can expect the virus to attack your lungs, throat, and nose. The condition is commonly known as the flu. But, you must never confuse it with stomach flu, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. The condition can resolve on its own without taking any medications. Normally, healthy people can get back to their life within a week. But, influenza can cause deadly complication in some people. The category of people who can develop deadly complications due to cold and flu include:

  • Older adults (more than 65 years of age)
  • Young children (age under 2 years)
  • Residents of long-term care facilities or nursing homes
  • Pregnant women
  • People with serious health problems (like kidney disease, asthma, heart disease, liver disease, and diabetes)
  • Women who have recently given birth (two weeks postpartum)
  • People with weak immune systems
  • Obese people (with BMI 40 or higher)

Symptoms Of Influenza

Symptoms Of Influenza

You can experience symptoms similar to the common cold at first. So, you may not realize the seriousness of the condition. The initial symptoms can include:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing

You develop cold due to the condition slowly while flu affects you suddenly. The symptoms associated with the flu can make you feel worse. So, influenza can trigger symptoms like:

  • Achy muscles
  • Chills
  • High fever (temperature over 38 degree Celsius)
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Persistent, dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling weak
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat

You can treat the condition effectively at home with just bed rest and drinking more fluids. So, healthy people have no necessity to see a doctor. But, people with underlying health conditions need to see the doctor right away to avoid developing complications. When you get medical assistance within the first forty-eight hours of noticing the symptoms, you can reduce the severity and length of the illness. You can also prevent more serious health complications.

Causes Of Influenza

The virus is the main cause of cold and flu. Flu viruses can travel in the air and enter the body. People with infection can transmit the virus through air droplets when they talk, cough or sneeze. You can also contract the problem when you touch the surface containing germs like computer keyboard or telephone, the virus transfers to your mouth, nose or eyes.

Causes Of Influenza

People infected by the virus can spread the problem to others. Affected people with the virus are contagious from the day or before the first symptoms appear. The contagious nature of the problem remains for five days after the symptoms begin. People with a weakened immune system and children are contagious more time compared to others.

Causes Of Influenza

Viruses causing the cold and flu constantly change over time. So, new strains appear regularly. People who have suffered influenza in the past have antibodies in the body. So, it will fight the particular strain of virus or similar virus that you have contracted before. Vaccinated yourself for the condition can also lessen the severity of the problem with a similar virus in the future. But, you face risk from the new strains of the virus. The antibodies cannot protect you from the new sub-types of the virus. It is because the new virus has different immunology from the ones you have suffered before.

Types Of Influenza Viruses

You can classify the virus into four different categories, namely A, B, C, and D. Human influenza virus A and B affect people during the winter season. The types of C infections can cause mild respiratory complication. It does not cause any epidemics. While type A has new strains that have resulted in the pandemic. Type D of the viruses does not cause illness or infection in people. It only affects cattle.

Risk Factors Associated With Influenza

Seasonal flu and cold is a common condition that affects anyone. But, some factor may increase the risk of developing influenza or its associated complications. So, the factors increasing the risk of the problem are:

Age

Seasonal cold and flu targets young children more compared to adults. It can also affect older adults with a weak immune system. So, people in a nursing home or living in military barracks have more chances of developing influenza.

Weak Immune System

People undergoing treatment for cancer can have a weak immune system. Similarly, individuals who take corticosteroids, anti-rejection drugs or suffer from AIDS/HIV have a weak immune system. So, they can catch the flu and develop complications. Their immune system cannot fight the infection leading to serious issues.

Suffer From Chronic Illnesses

If you have serious health issues like heart problems, diabetes, or asthma, it increases your risk of developing cold and flu.

Pregnancy

Pregnant women can develop cold and flu. It is a problem in the second and third trimesters during pregnancy. Women who have given birth recently (two weeks postpartum) are more likely to develop cold and flu. The condition can result in severe complications.

Obesity

People with excess fat accumulation in the body experience a high risk of cold and flu. So, obese people with the BMI (Body Mass Index) of 40 and above can experience the problem.

Complications Due To Influenza

You need to get treatment for influenza if you are old. Seasonal flu may not cause a serious issue to young and healthy people. It only causes aching and severe discomfort. The symptoms tend to go away after a week or two. The flu may not cause lasting problems or complications. But, young children and older people can suffer from complications. Young and old have a weak immune system. So, without treatment, flu can cause other serious issues like:

Among the above-mentioned health complications, pneumonia can result in a fatal complication. When people suffering from serious health issues contract pneumonia, it can cause death. Therefore, young children, people suffering from health issues, and older people need to see a doctor when they suffer from the flu. With medical assistance, you can prevent serious complications.

Diagnosing Influenza

People suffering from symptoms like body aches, headaches, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, fever or chills need to see a doctor. It is important to know the underlying reasons for the symptoms. In some cases, you may think some respiratory problems cause the issue. So, seeing a doctor is necessary to diagnose cold and flu. You can get infected by the virus without fever or suffer from the symptoms outside flu season. Therefore, instead of self-diagnosing the problem, you need to see a doctor tell conclusively the problem. The different diagnostic tests that can reveal the problem you suffer are:

Physical Assessment

Your doctor conducts a physical exam to check for the signs and symptoms. Based on the signs you exhibit, your doctor can order for lab tests that can detect influenza virus conclusively.

Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests (RIDTs)

It is the common test used to detect cold and flu virus. The test looks for antigens (parts of the virus) from the sample taken from the back of your throat or nose. In most of the cases, you can get the test results within fifteen minutes. But, it is not accurate as other flu tests. Due to the inaccuracy of the test results, your doctor can diagnose you with cold and flu even when then the test has negative results.

Rapid Molecular Assays (RMA)

The test can detect the genetic material of the virus affecting your body. It is more accurate compared to RIDTs. The tests can produce results within fifteen to twenty minutes.

More Sensitive Flu Tests

You have more sensitive flu tests available in specialized laboratories and hospitals. It offers more accurate results.

For the above mentioned diagnostic tests, your doctor takes a swab sample from the back of your throat or inside of the nose. It is sent to a lab for testing. Based on the test results and symptoms you experience, your doctor can suggest treatment options.

Treatments For Influenza

Everyone affected by cold and flu never requires the same treatment methods. Each person has different symptoms. So, your doctor decides treatment based on your symptoms and severity. One medicine is not suitable for all affected people. The treatment is based on the severity of the condition and complications you can develop. Therefore, the common treatment options are:

Cold And Flu Preparation

You have several preparations that aim to alleviate the symptoms caused due to cold and flu. The preparation contains several ingredients like:

  • Analgesics: To provide relief from pain due to flu and cold.
  • Antihistamines: It is effective in treating runny nose and stops sneezing.
  • Decongestants: It offers relief from a blocked or stuffy nose.
  • Cough suppressant: For keeping the dry cough under control.

Your doctor can suggest preparation that you can buy from medical shops.

Antiviral Medications

In some cases, the doctor recommends taking antiviral medication. You need to take the medication as soon as you notice the symptoms (within one or two days). It is usually recommended for people who come under the high-risk category. People under the high-risk category suffer from health complications like heart problem, diabetes, asthma or immunity issues. Such people can develop serious complication due to cold and flu. The common medications prescribed for the condition are:

  • Oseltamivir is an oral medication. But, the medication can cause delirium or self-harm behaviors.
  • Zanamivir is inhaled through a device that looks similar to an asthma inhaler. It is not suggested for people suffering from respiratory problems like lung disease or asthma.

You need to take the medication early to shorten the duration of your illness. Shortening it by a day or two can prevent the development of serious complications. Remember to take the medication along with food to prevent side effects like nausea or vomiting. Older antiviral drugs like rimantadine and amantadine are discontinued due to certain strains of influenza becoming resistant to it. You need to take good rest (preferably bed rest) and drink plenty of fluids to treat the flu.

Home Remedies To Manage Influenza

You need to take some home care measure when you come down with cold and flu. It will ease the symptoms and offer you relief.

Drink Plenty Of Fluids

You need to keep yourself hydrated to fight the symptoms associated with the flu. Drink the following through the day to prevent dehydration and other complications:

  • Water
  • Soups
  • Juice

Rest

You need to take rest while your body is fighting the flu. Try to sleep as it will help your immune system fight the infection.

Take Pain Relievers

If you feel pain and discomfort due to influenza, then you need to consider taking over-the-counter pain medication. Aching in the body is common signs associated with flu. So, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to combat the pain associated with the problem. Small children or teens recovering from flu must never take aspirin. It can result in Reye’s condition. The condition is rare but can cause fatal complications.

Preventing Influenza

Is it possible to prevent cold and flu? You need to make an effort to ensure you prevent catching of the virus. You may think that getting cold and flu means taking a couple of weeks out of school or work. But, not all people can get back to their normal life after the health problem. People with a weakened immune system or having serious health conditions like diabetes, heart problem or asthma can suffer serious complications. So, the trick is to prevent the virus from attacking. Here are some tips to prevent the virus from attacking your body.

Get Vaccination

You have the vaccination available to protect yourself from the condition. Getting the annual flu vaccination can prevent its occurrence. Anyone who is above six months or older can get the flu vaccination. The flu vaccination protects you from three to four types of influenza viruses. So, it offers protection against the virus that can commonly affect your health. Cold and flu virus is the only respiratory virus that you can prevent by getting the vaccination. So, talk to your doctor about getting it.

Keep Hands Clean

It is easy to pick the virus by touching any surface like tables that have come in contact with a sick person. The flu germs can linger on the hard surfaces like desks, counters, doorknobs, and faucets. The virus can stay alive for up to eight hours. So, when you touch the surface, it can transfer to your hands. You need to keep your hands clean. So, wash hands with soap and water to clear the germs. You can even use hand sanitizer to avoid spreading of germs. Try to carry disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer to clean your hands.

Cover Your Mouth And Nose

Cover Your Mouth And Nose

When you come in contact with a sick person, the germs can attack you. When the infected person coughs or sneezes, it sends out a spray laden with the virus. The droplets can reach your body through the nose or open mouth. Therefore, cover your mouth and nose when visiting a sick person.

Avoid Touching Your Face

When you touch a surface laden with germs and put your hands on your face, it results in a viral attack. Touching your face is the easiest way for the germs to get inside your body. So, try not to touch your mouth, nose, or eyes with the fingers without cleaning your hands.

Limit Sharing

Sharing is caring. It is a wonderful concept. But, it is not advisable to follow the motto during the flu season. Therefore, you need to avoid sharing of glasses, plates, utensils or anything else that comes in contact with your mouth. Always wash the utensils and dishes with hot water and soap.

Strengthen Immune System

To ward off the virus from attacking your body, you need to strengthen your immune system. Therefore, you need to follow the pointers suggested below:

  • Eat a healthy diet with all nutrients to ensure your immune system stays strong. A well-balanced diet can prevent diseases from affecting you.
  • Add exercise to your daily routine. Daily physical activity can keep your immune system. So, you can expect a speedy recovery from illness.
  • Sleep well for at least eight hours a day. Resting will give your body a chance to heal and increase immunity.
  • Quit smoking as it increases your chances of getting respiratory problems. You become more vulnerable to viral attacks. So, talk to your doctor about quitting the bad habit.

You can follow the steps suggested to keep yourself protected by the virus causing cold and flu. It avoids the discomfort associated with the problem.

Control Spreading Of Infection

Although you put efforts to prevent cold and flu from attacking you, it may not give you 100% results. The steps are not effective to completely avoid the problem. Once you have contracted the virus, you need to take measures to reduce its spread. As a responsible person, you need to ensure others are not affected by the virus through you. So, you need to follow the steps suggested to reduce the infection from spreading:

Wash Your Hands

You need to keep your hands clean to avoid transferring the virus to other surfaces. So, wash hands with soap and water or carry an alcohol-based sanitizer to avoid the transfer of germs.

Contain Your Sneezes And Coughs

Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. It avoids the spread of the virus through the droplets to other standing near you. Cough or sneeze into your inner crook of the elbow or use a tissue. Remember to throw away the tissue after use.

Avoid Crowds

Flu can spread easily when people gather together. So, you need to avoid places like public transportation, schools, office, childcare centers, and auditorium. Avoiding such places not only reduce the chances of spreading but also reduce the chances of infection. If you are feeling sick, stay at home for a day (24 hours). With reduced fever, the possibility of infecting others reduces.

Conclusion

Influenza is a severe condition that lasts longer compared to the common cold. In most cases, healthy people can recover from the cold and flu in about one or two weeks. But, people with a weak immune system suffer from life-threatening problems due to cold and flu. So, without medical treatment, people suffering from an underlying health condition, young or old can suffer fatal complications. Therefore, you need to get medical assistance to manage the problem. If you have a cold and flu, then take rest and drink plenty of fluids to get well. With proper care, you can get back to your normal life within a few weeks.

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