What ails you? A guide to winter illnesses

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Commentary by Debra Balos, D.O.

Some illnesses are more common during certain seasons of the year, and winter is no exception. Symptoms of wintertime ailments, such as the common cold, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia, can be similar, making it difficult to determine what illness you’re fighting, how to treat it and when to see your doctor. These basic guidelines may help.

Cold – A sore throat is often the first sign, followed by a runny nose, congestion and cough. Adults don’t generally run a fever with a cold, but children with colds may experience fever. Most people can expect to recover from a cold within about a week.

Flu – Common symptoms of flu – which can often appear suddenly – include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle and body aches, congestion and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea are also possible. If not effectively treated, the flu can cause complications, especially in older adults and people with heart and lung conditions. Talk to your doctor about the seasonal flu vaccine to help prevent flu.

Bronchitis – You may have bronchitis if you experience a hacking cough that lasts for several days, clear phlegm and soreness in the chest. Fever is not common with bronchitis, but low-grade fever can occur. See your doctor if the cough interferes with sleep or daily activities, if it lasts longer than a week or if symptoms worsen.

Pneumonia – There are two kinds of pneumonia – viral and bacterial. Bacterial pneumonia is more severe with symptoms that can include high fever, cough with thick mucus, shortness of breath, rapid breathing and sharp chest pain. If you have any signs of pneumonia, call your doctor right away. Immediate treatment may be necessary to avoid complications.

When coughing is a symptom, be alert to the possibility of pertussis (whooping cough). Pertussis is highly contagious and can cause severe coughing that can last for up to 10 weeks or longer. The disease is particularly dangerous for young children, especially infants. A vaccine is available to prevent pertussis and is recommended for children and adults caring for young children. Ask your doctor for specific information.

 

Debra Balos, D.O., specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine – Zionsville, 55 Brendon Way, Suite 800, Zionsville. She can be reached by calling the office at 777-6400.

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