Do you usually get sick during the winter? I'm afraid I get sick all the time!
I've gathered here some information about common winter
sicknesses and health problems. But remember: this does NOT come
instead of a visit to your doctor!
Most winter sicknesses (the flu, catching a cold, catarrh) are
caused by a virus, and there is no medication for that. Actually,
the body doesn't need medications. It takes a few days, including
high temperature, catarrh and an icky feeling, but the body heals
The problem with viral infections is that they might get more
complicated because of an additional bacterial infection. In that
case, you need to subdue the germs with antibiotics. Who decides?
In a case of viral flu or cold it is important to drink a lot,
rest, taken medications that will lower your temperature and be
patient. In which case you should visit the doctor? when your
sickeness goes on for over a week, when your temprature is very high
or when the sickness comes back after you started feeling well.
This page has information on:
- Common Cold
- Influenza (Flu; Grippe)
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
The Common Cold
Thrive-On-Line : Health
A common cold is a contagious viral infection of the
upper-respiratory passages. All sexes and ages can be affected by
this sickness. The body parts involved are the nose, throat, sinuses,
ears, eustachian tubes, trachea, larynx and bronchial tubes.
This sickness can be caused by any of at least 200 viruses. Virus
particles spread through the air or from person-to-person contact,
especially hand-shaking. The risk for illness increases on winter
(colds are most frequent in cold weather), for children
attending school or day care, if a household member has a cold and
in case of crowded or unsanitary living conditions. The infection
may be facilitated by stress, fatigue or allergic disorders.
signs and symptoms:
- Runny or stuffy nose. Nasal discharge is watery at first, then
becomes thick and greenish yellow.
- Sore throat.
- Cough that produces little or no sputum.
- Low fever.
- Watering eyes.
- Appetite loss
You can try and prevent from spreading the sickness to others by
washing your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose or
before handling food, and by avoiding unnecessary contact during the
contagious phase (first 2 to 4 days).
How to treat?
- To relieve congestion, inhale steam from a pan of boiled water
(after removing it from the heat); take hot showers; use salt-water
drops (1/2 teaspoon salt to 1 cup of warm water).
- Use a cool-mist, ultrasonic humidifier to increase air moisture.
Clean humidifier daily.
- Don't smoke if you have a cough.
- For a sore throat, drink hot liquids, use medicated throat
lozenges or suck on hard candies.
- For a baby too young to blow his nose, use an infant nasal
aspirator. If mucus is thick and sticky, loosen it by putting 2 or 3
drops of salt-water solution (see above) into nostrils.
Don't insert cotton swabs into a child's nostrils. Instead, catch
the discharge outside the nostril on a tissue or swab, roll it
around and pull the discharge out of the nose.
- For an infant or very young child, lay the child on his
stomach to sleep. This improves nasal drainage and
- Medications: No medicine, including antibiotics, can cure the common cold.
To relieve symptoms, you may use non-prescription drugs, such as
acetaminophen, decongestants, nose drops or sprays, cough remedies
and throat lozenges. Don't give a child under age 18 aspirin for
- Vitamin C in large doses (up to 1000 mg a day) may shorten
- Recommended Activity: Bed rest is not necessary, but
avoid vigorous activity. Rest often.
- Drink extra fluids, including water, fruit juice, tea and
carbonated drinks. Avoid milk because it may thicken secretions.
When should I call the doctor?
Call if the following occurs during the illness:
- Increased throat pain, or white or yellow spots on the tonsils
or other parts of the throat.
- Coughing episodes that last longer than intervals between
coughing; cough that produces thick, yellow-green or gray sputum;
cough that lasts longer than 10 days; or difficult or labored
breathing between coughing bouts.
- You cannot distinguish a cold from the flu.
- Fever that lasts several days; shaking chills.
- Chest pain or shortness of breath.
- Earache, headache or skin rash.
- Pain in the teeth or over the sinuses.
- Unusual lethargy or irritability.
- Enlarged, tender glands in the neck.
- Dusky blue or gray lips, skin or nail beds.
- Inability to bottle-feed or breast-feed (infant).
Influenza (Flu; Grippe)
Thrive-On-Line : Health
This is a common, contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus.
Incubation after exposure is 24 to 48 hours. There are three main
types of influenza (A, B, C), but they have the ability to mutate
into different forms. Outbreaks of different forms occur almost
every winter with varying severity.
Both sexes and all ages (except infants) are mostly affected.
This sickness is caused by infection of viruses from the
myxovirus class. The viruses spread by personal contact or indirect
contact (such as use of a contaminated drinking glass).
The risk to get infected increases with
- Stress, excessive fatigue, poor nutrition.
- Recent illness that has lowered resistance.
- Chronic lung or heart disease.
- Pregnancy (3rd trimester).
- Students and people in semi-closed environments .
- Immunosuppression from drugs or illness.
- Crowded places during an epidemic.
Signs and Symptoms
- Chills and moderate to high fever.
- Muscle aches, including backache.
- Cough, usually with little or no sputum.
- Sore throat; hoarseness; runny nose; headache; fatigue.
How to prevent?
- Have a yearly influenza vaccine injection if you are over age 65,
have chronic heart or lung disease (no matter what age), live in
close institutional quarters (nursing home, dorms, military base) or
you are a health care worker. The vaccine only protects against two
or three specific strains of influenza A.
- Avoid unnecessary contact with persons who have upper-respiratory
- Use of drug (amantadine or rimantadine) for high-risk persons
that have not been vaccinated.
- Avoid crowds during flu season.
How to treat?
- To relieve nasal congestion, use salt-water drops (1 teaspoon of
salt to 1 quart of water).
- To relieve a sore throat, gargle often with warm or cold,
- Use an ultrasonic cool-mist humidifier to increase air moisture.
This thins lung secretions so they can be coughed up more easily.
Don't put medicine in the humidifier; it does not help.
- To avoid spreading germs to others, wash your hands frequently.
- Use warm compresses or heating pad for aching muscles.
- Use a sponge bath to reduce a fever.
- Activity: Rest is the best medicine. If you are in good
general health, rest aids recovery.
- Appetite is usually lacking. You may just want liquids at first,
then progress to small meals of bland starchy foods (dry toast, rice,
pudding, cooked cereal, baked potatoes). Drink at least 8 glasses of
water a day (especially if you have a high fever). Extra fluids,
including fruit juice, tea and noncarbonated drinks, also help thin
- Medications: For minor discomfort, you may use non-prescription drugs, such as
acetaminophen, cough syrups, nasal sprays or decongestants. Don't
give aspirin to a person younger than 18. Some research shows a link
between the use of aspirin in children during a virus illness and
the development of Reye's syndrome. Your doctor may prescribe an
antiviral drug for seriously ill persons or for those at greatest
When should I call the Doctor?
Call your doctor if:
- You have symptoms of influenza.
- The following occurs during treatment: Increased fever or cough;
blood in the sputum; earache. Shortness of breath or chest pain;
thick discharge from the nose, sinuses or ears. Sinus pain; neck
pain or stiffness.
- New, unexplained symptoms develop.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
adapted from the
Seasonal Affective Disorder
UBC Psychiatry Home Page
Many people feel mildly "depressed" during the winter, but some
people have more severe bouts of feeling down all the time, low
energy, problems with sleep and appetite, and reduced concentration
to the point where they have difficulty functioning at work or in
the home. We say that these people have a clinical depression , to
distinguish it from everyday ups and downs. Seasonal affective
disorder (affective is a psychiatric term for mood), or SAD,
describes people who have these clinical depressions only during
the autumn and winter seasons. During the spring and summer, they
feel well and "normal"
The common symptoms of SAD include:
- Extreme fatigue and lack of energy
- Increased need for sleep; sleeping much more than usual
- Carbohydrate craving and increased appetite
- Weight gain
What treatments are available for SAD?
An new research finding is that many patients with SAD improve with
exposure to bright, artificial light, called light therapy, or
phototherapy. As little as 30 minutes per day of sitting under a
lightbox results in significant improvement in 60% to 80% of SAD
patients. Side effects of light therapy are mild, although people
with certain medical conditions or taking certain medications should
avoid light therapy. Other treatments for depression, including
antidepressant medications and counselling , may also be helpful for
patients with SAD. People with milder symptoms of the "winter blahs"
may be helped by simply spending more time outdoors and exercising
regularly in the winter.
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