Covid or Cold?
What to Watch for During Sniffles Season
By Amy Morgan
We’re getting back to normal routines that bring us into contact with more cold, flu and Covid germs, just as the fall allergy season picks up. How can you tell if your sniffles are something concerning? Should a runny nose keep you home from work or school?
Lonnie Schwirtlich, M.D., an emergency physician with 42 years of experience, has some advice to help you make wise health decisions. Dr. Schwirtlich is the founding partner of Physicians Premier, a free-standing emergency room located west of Highway 281 on Highway 46 near the HEB Plus.
First, assess your symptoms. Is your nose running clear or colored? Do you have fever or are you experiencing body aches or chills? Clear sputum without other symptoms is probably due to allergies, Dr. Schwirtlich said, and can be treated as non-contagious. The addition of any other symptom warrants caution. While not so long ago many adults considered it a badge of honor to fight through a cold or flu at work, now doctors recommend people who work inside and have contact with others refrain from sharing their germs.
No matter the cause, what’s most important is to relieve the congestion to keep a simple viral infection or allergy from taking a turn for the worse. Dr. Schwirtlich recommends taking a decongestant like Sudafed to dry up excess fluids. He cautions against using a multi-symptom cold medicine, because some ingredients meant to curb cough actually increase mucus production and can be counterproductive. While Sudafed is available without a prescription, you may purchase the more potent type at the pharmacy counter. If you habitually suffer from allergies, try an antihistamine/decongestant combination like Claritin D.
When any body cavity like the lungs’ bronchial tubes, ears or sinuses becomes clogged with excess fluid, it provides a perfect spot for bacteria to breed. Bacterial infections can take advantage of a body’s weakened immune system and ramp up just as a person is starting to feel better. Feeling worse again 5-10 days after symptom onset is cause for concern, Dr. Schwirtlich said. He’s seen many cases of bacterial pneumonia, strep, and MRSA – all infections that can make a person very sick and can prove fatal if left unchecked – even for the young and previously healthy.
If you’ve been having symptoms, watch for changes. If you experience fever or your sputum darkens, seek medical attention. Make sure to make your doctor aware of your illness history, so he or she can understand you are quite possibly dealing with a more serious secondary infection and take appropriate treatment steps – most certainly a course of antibiotics at the least. If you experience shortness of breath or cough up blood, head to the ER immediately.
Other ways to stay healthy: exercise, get plenty of rest and eat nutritious foods. Sleep is one of the best ways the body fights illness. Dr. Schwirtlich recognizes that our diet of processed food makes it extremely difficult to consume enough fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, so take a multi-vitamin to achieve optimal nutrient levels. Dr. Schwirtlich prefers those made from freeze-dried produce. Check recommended doses of vitamins B, C, D and Zinc to make sure you are getting enough of those crucial immune boosters. Taking Pepcid helps keep your stomach from upset and enables Zinc to work more effectively, Dr. Schwirtlich added.
This fall, consider a runny nose with caution, and stay home if you are sick.
Physicians Premier allows patients to access the care they need when they need it, saving time, money, alleviating concern and allowing for a healthier patient and community. Find them at MDpremier.com.