Winter comes every year and with it comes the cold & flu season. Respiratory illnesses are undoubtedly more prevalent during the colder months of the year. People tend to stay indoors or in closed spaces making it easier for the viruses to pass from one individual to another. The cold, dry air tends to weaken our resistance power. People try their best to keep themselves and their family healthy during the winter. But despite many efforts, you might still fall sick. So, here is a lowdown on what the common winter ailments are and how one can steer clear of them.
What are the most common winter illnesses?
This season is loved by most people, but the winter diseases and health ailments it brings with it are not welcome by anyone. A sudden drop in temperature could lead to several health issues of the skin and respiratory infections. So, while you are indulging in good food and dressing up in winter finery, you need to keep a look out for the following winter illnesses:
- Common cold: This is a viral infection which affects your nose and throat, sometimes your ears as well. It lasts from a few days to several weeks and is more common than one thinks.
- Flu: This is quite similar to common cold but this contagious respiratory disease affects your respiratory tract like mouth, nose, throat and lungs. It can be mild or severe. Though the fever gets treated in five days, the coughing and general fatigue stays for two weeks.
- Bronchitis: Bronchitis is a prevalent viral respiratory infection. It can be acute or chronic. It is characterized by the inflammation of bronchi, which are the large tubes which bring air to your lungs.
- Strep throat: This is mostly seen in school-going children and does not generally involve symptoms of cold or coughing. This bacterial infection is primarily a severe sore throat accompanied by headaches and stomachaches.
- Whooping cough: Also known as pertussis, this is a serious and extremely contagious bacterial infection. This primarily affects infants and young children. This condition can last up to 10 weeks.
The symptoms serve as early warning signs and indicate towards their respective winter illnesses. So, these are the signs and symptoms you need to watch out for:
- Common cold: Symptoms include scratchy throat, headache, chest congestion, runny nose, sneezing, chills, aches and sometimes low-grade fever.
- Flu: Symptoms are high fever, cough, headache, diarrhea, body aches, sore throat etc.
- Bronchitis: Symptoms include breathing difficulty, mild fever, and nasal passage congestion, dry cough which turns into mucus producing, wheezing, dehydration, runny nose, watery eyes and coughing.
- Strep throat: Symptoms are sore throat, high fever, headache, vomiting, difficulty while swallowing food or water, swollen lymph nodes etc.
- Pneumonia: Symptoms range from mild to severe. The common symptoms include confusion, heavy sweating, fever, chills, and loss of appetite, coughs along with mucus, rapid breathing, and a stabbing pain in the chest.
- Whooping cough: This starts with a common cold and includes coughing spells that end with a whooping sound. Other symptoms are fever, watery eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose.
The different causes for each of the common winter illnesses are:
- Common cold: There are more than 200 kinds of virus which can cause common cold, the most common one being rhinovirus. This disease is caused due to changing seasons, any infected person coughing or sneezing near you, or coming in contact with any contaminated surface.
- Flu: This is a contagious respiratory disease due to the virus ‘influenza’. You get it from airborne droplets that are sneezed or coughed, by touching contaminated substances etc.
- Bronchitis: There are many different viruses which cause bronchitis, the most common one being RSV. You could also develop it from a cold or flu virus or inhaled bacteria. You are more likely to get it if you smoke, have sinusitis, enlarged tonsils or allergies, and even due to irritants like air pollution.
- Strep throat: This is caused due to a bacterial infection and is quite common among children. It is mostly spread between children at school or during play times.
- Pneumonia: This is a disease caused due to viruses, bacteria or fungi which are inhaled. This mostly happens when the immune system is weak, like just after a surgery, due to other illnesses like cancer or asthma, old age or smoking.
- Whooping cough: This is caused due to a bacterium Bordetella pertussis and spread by coughing, sneezing and even breathing.
Treatment for winter illnesses
The modes of treatment depend mainly on the kind of virus or disease involved. The treatment techniques for the common illnesses are:
There is no such cure for common cold. You could use decongestants, cough drops and antihistamines to help you with the symptoms. But you generally need to rest and wait it out.
Similar to common cold, you could relieve the symptoms with rest, plenty of fluid intake and medicines. In severe cases, antiviral drugs like Tamiflu or Relenza help to decrease the flu’s duration. But this treatment should be started within the first 48 hours to be most effective.
This is usually treated with the help of antibiotics.
- Bronchitis: Acute bronchitis cannot be helped much and clears up on its own. Humidifiers, cough syrups and pain relievers help to cope with the symptoms. In chronic cases, smoking needs to be quitted, oral or inhaled medications help and even lung transplant or surgery may be done.
If you are suffering from viral pneumonia, you should rest, eat well, drink lots of fluids, as well as take medicines to ease your fever and cough. Antibiotics help to treat bacterial pneumonia. In severe cases, it can get quite deadly and require hospitalization.
The best way to treat whooping cough is to take antibiotics from an early stage. Staying warm, lots of fluid intake and restraining exposure to cold or dust helps.
Prevention of winter illnesses
Even though nobody can surely prevent winter illnesses for a lifetime, there are certain measures which help to keep you healthy and stay away from winter diseases most of the time. These are:
- Wash your hands consistently throughout the day to avoid germs and bacteria.
- Get enough rest and drink plenty of fluids, mostly water.
- Cover your mouth with your hands or a tissue while sneezing and coughing.
- Maintain a safe distance from people with cold and avoid using the same items like clothes, blankets, handkerchiefs etc.
- Regular exercises help to strengthen the immunity.
- Make sure everyone in your family gets their annual flu vaccination.
- Consult a doctor right away when you are feeling sick.
- Drink warm water.
- Always remember to wash your hands after using the washroom.
- Get enough sleep and stay hydrated.
- Eat a good diet, consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Stay well-covered in warm clothes and avoid exposure to cold as much as possible.
So, maintaining basic hygiene, staying warm and staying hydrated is very important. Make sure to stay away from people if you or others near you are contagious. Most of the time, your immune system will handle your winter illnesses without any intervention. However, if you feel it is taking too long for you to get better, or you are getting worse, it may be time to consult a doctor.