Keeping the immune system strong and healthy plays a vital role in preventing colds and other upper respiratory illnesses that are so common this time of year. In order to maintain a healthy immune system, the body has to get the proper amount of sleep. Other tips for avoiding illness include washing your hands often, eating a healthy diet, drinking water to stay hydrated and exercising. If friends or family are sick, try to avoid close contact with them if possible. There is also a pneumonia vaccine for people over the age of 65 and for those who have chronic illnesses.
Colds usually resolve within one to two weeks. Symptoms often include a scratchy or sore throat, sneezing, stuffy nose and/or cough. Common treatment normally includes rest and hydration. When experiencing cold symptoms, it can be helpful to go ahead and schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. Physicians can differentiate between symptoms of a cold or other illnesses, and help determine the best method of treating or managing your symptoms. If your symptoms seem to get better and then worse again, if they persist for more than two weeks, or if you’re experiencing a high-grade fever, it’s important that you make an appointment to see a physician, as it is possible that your cold may have progressed into another illness, such as bronchitis, sinusitis or pneumonia. If your cold-like symptoms are actually indicators of a bacterial illness (such as certain forms of sinus infections or pneumonia), physicians can also start patients on a regimen of antibiotics. Unfortunately, because the common cold is a virus, in most instances, you just have to let it run its course. Antibiotics will not treat colds or other viruses because they are used for the treatment of bacterial infections.
There are medications that can help manage and relieve cold symptoms, which can be purchased over-the-counter at your local drugstore, such as nasal or oral decongestants. Or, an effective way to relieve congestion naturally is with a saline (salt and water) nasal spray. Regardless of whether you use medicines or not, the best way to help your body fight off a cold and other upper respiratory illnesses is to get adequate rest and stay hydrated. If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, it’s important that you talk with your doctor before taking an oral decongestant, as it may raise your blood pressure. It is also extremely important for those who are chronically ill or on other medications to consult with a pharmacist or physician before treating cold symptoms. Cone Health Medical Group is dedicated to providing patient-centered primary care to help individuals in the community in the prevention and management of colds and respiratory illnesses, especially during this time of year when these issues are so common.
Dr. Stephen Hunter is a family medicine physician at LeBauer HealthCare at Brassfield and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry and political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008, and his medical degree from Wake Forest University in 2012. Dr. Hunter completed the Cone Health Family Medicine Residency Program in 2015.