Respiratory Season Is Coming
Every year this happens. We get tired of the summer heat and look forward to the cooler temperatures of the Fall and Winter but with the change in seasons comes a change from allergy season to respiratory season. We have returned from our summer vacations back to our office buildings and classrooms. With this annual migration back indoors comes a closeness that makes it easier to transmit germs that make us sick.
The USA will suffer from a billion ‘Colds” this year. That’s right, a billion! The average child will get anywhere from 4 to 12 ‘Colds’ in a year while their adult counterparts will suffer through 2-4 in a year. The average ‘Cold’ lasts around 1-2 weeks. This means the average kid in Texas is sick with a ‘Cold’ for almost half the year. This is because of their close interaction with fellow children in schools, sports and daycares. Anyone who has experienced a ‘Cold’ knows it usually starts out as a tickle in your throat with a runny nose, congestion and sneezing and then a cough that seems to never go away. You feel drained of energy and may have a low-grade fever but it doesn’t usually involve the deeper airways of the lungs. Several possible viruses cause the ‘Cold’. There is no cure or vaccine and there doesn’t appear to be one coming anytime soon. There are over the counter medicines that will help you with the runny nose and cough. These medicines help but nothing will completely take the symptoms away except for time and your immune system. Luckily the common Cold is fairly mild but it will result in lost work and school for many of us.
Next up is the FLU. It is also caused by a virus, Influenza virus, but unlike a ‘Cold’ the Flu can be serious. Last year the Flu and Flu related illnesses killed almost 10,000 Texans. This was a jump of almost 27% from the previous years. It will infect between 10-20% of us depending on how effective our vaccine is this year. Every year the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) makes an educated guess on which strains to go with for our Flu vaccines. Sometimes they get it perfect and we have a mild Flu season and other times the get it wrong, which causes us misery. The Flu typically starts a few days after exposure and will last 4-6 days. The typical symptoms are Fever, headache and a severe cough and malaise. While the infection may only be 4-6 days the cough can last weeks after the infection is over. Depending on the strain of virus you get you may also experience nausea and vomiting for a few days. The Flu loves to disproportionately affect the very old and young. There is no cure but there are several brands of anti-flu medicines available by prescription. These medicines, like Tamiflu, will help shorten the course of the infection by a day or two but to be effective they need to be started within 48hrs of your symptoms starting. FYI, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is in talks with the maker of Tamiflu to make it over the counter here in America soon.
Pneumonia is a bad respiratory illness that makes it hard to breathe. It is an infection of the lungs causing them to fill with fluid, which interferes with their ability to move oxygen from the airways into the blood stream which essentially means we suffocate. This is usually easily seen on a basic chest X-ray. Most people with pneumonia will have a fever and a cough as well as pain in the chest. They may feel fatigue or malaise and they may find it hard to breathe. They can have a wet or dry cough. They often experience chills or sweating.
It can be caused by bacteria or viruses. Strep pneumonia is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia while Influenza is the most common cause of viral pneumonia. It is the number one reason adults get admitted to the hospital, other than childbirth. Older people are more likely to get pneumonia and die from it. Luckily there’s a vaccine, which protects about 50% of the elderly from getting pneumonia. Children are more likely to get a viral pneumonia. Viral pneumonias cannot be treated with antibiotics. They can be helped with certain kinds of medicines like albuterol or being placed on oxygen until the immune system finally kills the infection.
Antibiotics are necessary for bacterial pneumonia. Sometimes just a course of oral antibiotics is all that is needed to cure a mild pneumonia. Other times strong IV antibiotics are needed in the hospital to treat the infection. When pneumonia becomes severe patients may need to be admitted to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and placed on a breathing machine (ventilator). The bacteria can sometimes get into the blood stream from the infected lungs and cause Sepsis. Sepsis is a condition where the bacteria over run the immune system causing our vascular system to collapse. The death rate in sepsis is high. It is a horrible condition and due to antibiotic resistance it is becoming harder and harder to treat.
If you feel like you have a ‘Cold’ you probably do. Stay home and rest with some cough medicines. If you feel like it is getting harder to breath then go get checked at My Urgent Care Clinic because you might have the Flu or pneumonia. Oh and remember to get your vaccines up to date.
John Turner MD
My Emergency Room 24/7
My Urgent Care Clinic