Influenza is like a cold in that they are both respiratory infections caused by viruses. If a cold is misdiagnosed as flu, there's no problem. At worst, a cold can occasionally lead to secondary bacterial infections of the middle ear or sinuses, which can be treated. But if the flu is misdiagnosed as a bad cold, potentially life-threatening flu complications like pneumonia may be overlooked.
If you are getting colds and the flu too frequently you should have your healthcare provider assess you for what may be causing this predisposition. There may be a drain on your immune system from a hidden infection, poor diet, hidden allergies or lifestyle problems. Exposure to cold and wet, overwork, loss of sleep, and other exhausting conditions lower bodily resistance and prepare the way for the virus to begin its work. The virus, in turn, prepares the way for the disease germs already present in the nasal cavity and other respiratory passages to multiply.
Other predisposing factors are a lack of resistance from living in overheated and poorly-ventilated rooms, without sufficient outdoor exercise; lowered resistance due to errors in diet, including overeating, especially of such concentrated foods as sugar, fats, meats or nuts; and diseased tonsils and adenoids. People who live truly hygienic lives seldom have colds. Many people with a history of being sick frequently no longer have this tendency after making appropriate changes.
Usually colds begin slowly, 2-3 days after infection with the virus. The first symptoms are perhaps a scratchy, sore throat, followed by sneezing and a runny nose. Temperature is usually normal or only slightly elevated. A mild cough can develop later. Symptoms tend to be worse in infants and young children, who sometimes run temperatures of up to 102°F (39°C). Cold symptoms usually last from two days to a week.
Indications of the flu include sudden onset with a headache, dry cough, and chills. The symptoms quickly become more severe than those of a cold. The flu sufferer often experiences fatigue with muscle aches in the back and legs. Fever of up to 104°F (40°C) is common. The fever typically begins to subside on the second or third day, and then respiratory symptoms like nasal congestion and sore throat appear. Fatigue and weakness may continue for days or even weeks.
The symptoms experienced during the flu are the body's natural attempt to eliminate the infection. For example, the body raises its temperature (i.e. produces a fever) high enough to kill the infecting organism and increases mucus production to soothe irritated tissues that have become inflamed due to the immune system's response.
Because the symptoms of the common cold are caused by more than 200 different viruses – most by "rhinoviruses" (from the Greek rhin, meaning "nose") – the development of a vaccine isn't feasible. To minimize the spread of colds, people should try to keep their defenses up and their exposure down.
The current medical treatments for colds include antihistamines, cough suppressants, decongestants and other treatments which tend to suppress cold symptoms, making people more comfortable. Sometimes antibiotics are used, even though we know that they do not work on viruses. However, they may be useful for secondary infections that develop as a result of the viral infection. Very little treatment is usually directed toward building the immune system to help prevent recurrence.
The goal of natural treatment is to work with the body's defense mechanisms by enhancing the immune system rather than suppress the flu symptoms with analgesics and cough medications. So, when treating with natural therapeutics, flu symptoms may temporarily worsen, but the duration of the illness will probably be shorter and secondary infections may be reduced or prevented.
Natural medicine suggests you only keep an eye on a fever, not letting it get dangerously high. Some doctors say not to take any action unless it gets over 103-104°F (39.4-40°C). While long-term fevers can be dangerous, a fever that runs its natural course is usually quite safe if monitored closely.
With the typical symptoms, it is not necessary to contact your doctor immediately. However, if symptoms persist, become severe or localized in the throat, stomach or lungs, or if other symptoms such as vomiting and behavioral changes occur, professional help should be sought.
By increasing inflammatory cytokine production, black elderberry extract may be beneficial to immune system activation and in the inflammatory process in healthy individuals or in patients with various diseases. [Eur Cytokine Netw 2001 Apr-Jun; 12(2): pp.290-6]
Sugar consumption is a known weakener of the immune system. Regular use of rapidly-absorbed sugars slows down your immune system's ability to dispose of invading organisms.
It is generally best not to eat for at least a day when sick with a cold or flu. Not eating will help your immune system to concentrate on the battle taking place. Fasting is more likely to make a difference with the flu than with a simple cold.
Marvin Sackner, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, published a study in 1978 finding that drinking hot chicken soup aided in clearing nasal passages better than plain hot or cold water. Sackner felt even consuming chicken soup cold aided in clearing a "stuffy" nose. But, a hot, steaming cup of chicken soup was the most efficient remedy.
Dr. Irwin Ziment, M.D., pulmonary specialist and professor at the UCLA School of Medicine feels chicken soup contains ingredients similar to those in modern cold medicines. It has been demonstrated that chicken soup has a very mild anti-inflammatory action and this potentially could contribute to some of the so-called medicinal activities that people have attributed to chicken soup. Adding pepper to chicken soup also can help to clear a stuffy nose, doctors say.
During times of illness it is especially important to maintain fluid intake. Water is best, but if any juice is used during this time, fresh vegetable juice is better than sweet fruit juice.
Dairy products tend to be mucous-forming, making the mucous thicker. This makes it more difficult for natural processes to remove it, increasing the susceptibility to infections.
The best way to reduce the likelihood of infection is regular hand washing, along with not touching the nose, eyes or mouth. The flu is highly contagious disease, spreading mostly by direct person-to-person contact. With the flu, coughing – even more than sneezing – is the most effective method of transmission.
Resting in bed and keeping warm are still recognized as an important part in recovering from the cold or flu: time is the only sure cure for colds and flus.
One way of enhancing the immune system is by using different forms of heat. A common way of avoiding colds is to take a good hot soak periodically during cold weather followed by a quick cooling rinse. Another method is to take a sauna followed by a cold shower. This hot-cold cycle is usually repeated at least twice and works best if done at the very first indication of a viral infection.
Interference with the constant passage of mucus raises the chances for penetration of the virus. Therefore, drinking liquids and maintaining a humid environment with a vaporizer may lower susceptibility.
Many studies have been done to determine the effect vitamin C has on the common cold. Review of these studies shows that even larger doses of vitamin C, such as 500-1,000mg per day, have no significant effect on preventing colds. These doses may, however, reduce the duration and severity of a cold for some people. This may be because at high doses, vitamin C may act like an antihistamine.
Your body is a highly complex, interconnected system. Instead of guessing at what might be wrong, let us help you discover what is really going on inside your body based on the many clues it is giving.
Our multiple symptom checker provides in-depth health analysis by The Analyst™ with full explanations, recommendations and (optionally) doctors available for case review and answering your specific questions.