Each year, as the temperature drops and winter rolls in, so do the sniffles, sore throats and fevers. Winter brings with it a rise in the spread of cold and flu viruses, for reasons we will outline in this article. But this year poses a slightly different circumstance to previous years – having witnessed several months of lockdown measures this year, but now being free to go to restaurants, concerts and shops, there’s a chance that this season’s illnesses could be more pronounced, with some dubbing it the “super cold”. But is there truth to this ominous nickname, or will this year be like any other (normal) year for viruses?
2021 vs before
Whilst not every year comes packing a new virus as destructive as that of 2020’s, there are slight adaptations that might make one particular virus more contagious or cause more severe symptoms. Scientists monitor the prevalence of different types of cold and flu viruses each year, and are able to largely predict which are most likely to pose a threat in the coming year. This is why it’s recommended to get a flu jab each year to make sure you’re equipped to fight the current year’s most important viruses, especially necessary if you are in your old age, or if you have a weakened immune system.
Although experts are not expecting a significantly new virus to cause issues this winter, there is another reason why we might find ourselves blowing our noses more than in some previous years. Having had several months of nationwide lockdowns this year, in countries all over the globe, we haven’t spent as much time mingling with other people in shared spaces where we would have been likely exposed to variants of the cold and flu viruses. Therefore, we have not built up the same antibodies that we usually have by this time of year to fight infection quicker and more effectively. Now, as the world feels like it has largely reopened for business, the sudden exposure we’ll get to viruses might take a hit on us initially. The result of this is very likely to be a cold or flu with nastier symptoms than in previous years – more sneezing, coughing and headaches, and longer periods of illness, the so-called “super cold”. But all is not lost, there are ways to reduce the severity of symptoms, and methods of speeding up your recovery.
Cold vs Flu Symptoms
It’s common to mix up the symptoms of a common cold with those of the flu, and vice versa, due to a lot of overlap such as them both being respiratory conditions. The most central of the differences is in how you can catch the viruses – the flu is caused only by the influenza virus, whilst a cold could be caused by any number of viruses, including rhinovirus and parainfluenza. Many of the symptoms are the same or similar, but there are some differences in the typical characteristics of the conditions.
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A general rule that seems to ring true is that flu symptoms are often worse than cold symptoms, and occur more abruptly. It’s likely that the predominant symptoms of a cold will be a runny or stuffy nose, whilst fevers are likely to cause a rise in body temperature and a headache. Testing yourself with a thermometer can help clarify your internal temperature if you are unsure about whether your symptoms are flu or cold related.
Another difference between the conditions is that the common cold does not tend to develop into or lead to another serious health condition or medical complication. This is not the same as can be said about the flu, with untreated symptoms potentially leading to sinus or ear infections, or even pneumonia. Flu complications are most common if you are in the category of being over 65, having a weakened immune system from diabetes, asthma or heart disease, or if you’re pregnant. More serious symptoms of a flu that you should contact your doctor about if you experience them are the following: difficulty breathing, constant pain in the chest or abdomen, persistent dizziness or severe muscle pains.
How to Treat the Flu
Although it’s very likely that a healthy individual will recover from the flu without the need for treatment, for others the flu could make you seriously ill. The best method of going to the heart of the problem is by combating the virus you’ve been infected with using antiviral medication. Prescription medications such as Tamiflu inhibit the formation of an enzyme that the influenza virus needs to grow and spread. The full course of the treatment is taken for 5 days, but the medication usually takes noticeable effect earlier than this.
Taking medication for relieving pain, such as standard over-the-counter painkillers, can help to relieve discomfort such as headaches or muscle aches. Topical creams and gels can also be used to reduce localised pain in targeted areas of the body, and TENS electrical nerve stimulation could be used as a drug-free alternative. Just treatments are available from reputable online pharmacies, such as Pharmica, from which you can conveniently order from online without risking spreading your infection to other physical shoppers.
Other methods of treating a flu include staying well hydrated, checking the colour of your pee for an indication of your hydration status – a healthy broth is a great way to stay hydrated whilst also getting calories for energy and other essential nutrients. The virus can take its toll on the body, so make sure you get plenty of good quality sleep.
How to Treat a Cold
Colds will usually go away in a week or 2 without the need for treatment, but you can speeden up this recovery by using certain treatments. One of the most characteristic symptoms of a cold is a blocked or runny nose, and so decongestants are useful for reducing the severity of respiratory symptoms. Nasal sprays can help to clear out and cleanse the nasal passages, removing impurities. Topical treatments like Vicks Vaporub are also great for clearing the airways, used by applying either to the chest or to the pillow during sleep. You can similarly use OTC pain relief treatment for treating headaches or pain.
To protect against these 2 types of viral infection, make sure you avoid close contact with people you know are ill, clean your hands often and refrain from touching your nose or mouth throughout the day.
How to Protect against Colds and Flu
It’s recommended to get the flu vaccine to help protect against the flu variants that are likely to be most prevalent in any one year. This is especially important if you are at higher risk of serious complications after catching the flu, such as those over 65 years old, or with a pre-existing chronic health condition such as asthma or diabetes.
There are a number of healthy habits that can reduce your likelihood of catching a common cold or flu. Additionally, eat a nutritionally balanced diet and exercise regularly to put your immune system in the strongest position to deal with viruses most effectively.