VIRAL RESPIRATORY ILLNESSES ARE COMMON INFECTIONS that can affect the nose, throat, and lungs. They are more common in the winter months and less common in the summer. This winter we have been hit harder than usual. These illnesses are caused by a variety of viruses including the flu, common cold, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and even Covid-19.
Millions of people will get these illnesses this year, and some will be more severe than others. Everyone’s immune system reacts differently. A different strain or a different virus may have a completely different effect on you. Consider Covid-19 where most of us know someone who was extremely ill from the disease, but also know people who had very mild symptoms.
The typical symptoms of the most common respiratory illnesses include sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, cough, body aches and pains, fatigue, chills, headache, fever, and sneezing. You could have any combination of these varied symptoms. Covid-19 can present the same symptoms, and can sometimes lead to more severe symptoms like loss of taste or smell, blood clots, chest pain and severe shortness of breath. We have seen patients who had blood clots with severe complications.
Most treatment is similar for all of these respiratory illnesses. Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Reach out to your doctor if your symptoms are severe or not improving after 3-4 days. Use over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to relieve pain or reduce fever.
Taking a home Covid test could also be helpful. If it is positive, you can alert vulnerable family members to keep their distance and limit their exposure. Also, if you have a positive Covid test and you have an underlying medical condition you should reach out to your primary care provider for further advice. In some situations medication may be warranted to stop the progression of the virus.
Of course, prevention is always better than treatment.
The same advice you have been hearing for the last couple of years on avoiding Covid exposure is equally true for influenza, RSV, and a common cold. Avoiding crowded rooms and events, and limiting exposure time can help. Using hand sanitizer or good handwashing can eliminate the germs that are on your hands, preventing you from infecting yourself by rubbing your eyes, touching your face or handling food with contaminated hands.
Lastly, do not forget about vaccination, which is one of our best options for some illnesses. It will not help you with a common cold or RSV, but there is a significant reduction in illness or severity of illness from flu by receiving the flu vaccine. It’s not a perfect solution but severe illness is much more likely in an unvaccinated individual. The same applies to Covid-19 where we have seen people get Covid despite vaccination and booster shots, but the severity of illness is dramatically reduced in the vaccinated group.
Stay safe this winter and work with your primary care physician for all of your health needs.