Monday, December 1, 2008

'Tis the season...

'Tis the season for many things-goodwill, peace, holiday parties, and...coughs and colds. What can you to prevent getting sick during this hectic time of year? As should come as no surprise, the best defense you can have against germs is a combination of staying healthy (see how it always comes back to good nutrition, exercise, and sleep!) and washing your hands. Use those wipes that many grocery stores  now provide and wipe down the handle before you place your hands on that shopping cart. Cough and cold viruses are easily passed from one person covering their mouth to cough or rubbing their eyes and then putting their hands on a door knob, stair rail, or yes, shopping cart-allowing the next person to touch that same object and then touch their own face/mouth and pass the virus. Washing your hands frequently and being aware of NOT touching your eyes, nose or mouth will help reduce your chance of catching these common germs.
 What about extra vitamin C and zinc? Well, best evidence medicine has indeed shown that extra vitamin C will reduce symptoms and possibly shorten the course of the common cold. Zinc lozenges have been proven to decrease susceptibility to these germs, but do not shorten the course of illness once you are infected.
If you do get sick, remember the things your mom taught you. Stay well-hydrated (which keeps the mucus flowing, rather than being dried up and sticky), take tylenol or ibuprofen for fever and aches and pains, and remember feel-good home remedies like old fashioned vaporub (menthol topical decongestant) or the newer versions where you place a menthol-releasing tablet in your shower. 
If your nasal mucus turns green, does that mean you need antibiotics? No, typically not! Viruses can turn snot green as easily as a bacterial sinus infection. See your doctor if your symptoms are worsening or persisting beyond several days, or you have localizing symptoms (such as one sided ear pain or teeth pain) which may indicate an ear or sinus infection that could possibly require antibiotics. 
What about OTC antihistamines and decongestants? Adults may find the benefits outweigh the side effects, so SHORT term use of a topical nasal spray or oral decongestant may relieve stuffiness, and antihistamines are helpful if you have copious runny nose or itchy eyes.
BOTTOM LINE: Emphasize prevention to avoid colds- good nutrition, frequent hand-washing, perhaps some extra Vitamin C and Zinc, and of course, the flu vaccine.  If you get sick anyway, remember green nasal discharge does NOT equal need for antibiotics!

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