We’ve all done it. We wake up with a runny nose and immediately assume we have the flu or some type of nasty bacteria, causing havoc. But how do you really know?
Well, this check-list will guide you so that you have an idea of what has found its way into your system.
Your doctor will make the final diagnosis, but this will help you understand how they make their decision.
There are many different types of allergies, including food, pet, seasonal and more specific allergies. In this article, we’re going to focus on pet and seasonal allergies.
Symptoms: itchy, red eyes; runny nose; itching on your skin; wheezing (difficulty breathing.)
Causes: Allergies are caused when your immune system mistakes certain substances (such as airborne pollens and spores) for germs and begins attacking them.
Treatment: Your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine, which will decrease the inflammation. E.g. if you have a runny nose, it will shrink the inflamed membranes in your nose that is causing the excess fluid to come out of your nose.
They could also recommend that you take a vitamin C supplement to help boost your immune system. If you have a lot of mucous in your sinus from allergies, this mucous can become a warm & cozy home for germs. That’s why we want to try and keep your airways clear, and your immune system strong.
A cold is caused by a virus and is not the same as a bacterial infection or allergy. Unlike an allergy, colds are contagious and can be transferred easily. E.g. If you shake hands with someone who has a cold, it is more than likely that you will get the virus.
Symptoms: Coughing; sneezing; runny or stuffy nose; sore throat. Some people also experience fatigue. A cold generally lasts between 3 days to 2 weeks.
Causes: A cold is caused by a virus (there are many different kinds)
Treatment: If you have a stuffy nose, you will be prescribed a decongestant (it helps to decrease the swelling of the membranes that close up your nose). If it’s a runny nose, you’ll be prescribed an antihistamine. There are also ways to prevent a cold that doesn’t require medication: keep a far distance from someone with a cold and wash your hands regularly.
The common cold and flu have similar symptoms, but there are certain differences and the symptoms tend to be more severe if you have flu.
Symptoms: Like a cold, you will have a runny/stuffy nose and sore throat. You’ll probably feel more tired when you have a flu. You’re also more likely to have flu if you also have a fever, diarrhoea, chills, body aches, nausea and vomiting.
Causes: There are 3 viruses that cause Flu, known as types A, B and C. “But I had a flu vaccination, what’s going on? The vaccination can help protect you from types A and B, but there is no flu shot for type C – this type causes milder lung symptoms.
You’ll also find that colds and flu are more common in winter because the virus stays airborne longer in indoor, humid environments.
Also, because your body spends a lot of energy just keeping you warm, your immue system may be a bit weaker. This makes you more prone to infections.
Treatment: Antibiotics won’t help! A lot of people want to convince their doctors : “I need a STRONG antibiotic!”, but that is a silly request if you have flu. Why? Because it’s a virus, not a bacteria. Antibiotics do absolutely nothing for a virus.
Instead, the doctor will prescribe treatments to help with your symptoms. This can include antihistamines, decongestants, medication for pain & feverm, and Vitamin C to help boost your immune system. The only cure for flu, is your body’s immune system : this means BED REST.
Did you know that only about 1% of bacteria are harmful!? The other 99% actually help our body to function including digestion of food, giving us essential nutrients – they even fight cancer cells! But if you are victim to that 1%, your treatment is completely different to that of a virus.
Symptoms: These will depend on the type of bacterial infection, but they could include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and blood in the stool.
Causes: It’s not always easy to determine the cause of bacterial infections because many of the symptoms are similar to those you would get from a virus.
Dr Albert Viljoen says, “In good medical practice, the doctor won’t simply prescribe antibiotics that easily. If you have an obvious bacterial infection : pus-like mucous, high fever, or other clear evidence, we happily give the patient the correct antibiotic. However, if it looks like a virus-infection, we want your body to fight through it. Giving antibiotics unnecessarily, has caused some bacteria to become resistant, and turn into superbugs that kill many people each year. We’d like to avoid that getting any worse!”
Treatment: Antibiotics are mainly prescribed for bacterial infections but your doctor may also want to test your blood and urine to help them diagnose the type of infection.
If you have a bacterial skin infection, a biopsy may be necessary. This is when a piece of tissue from the affected area is removed and analysed. It will help the doctor with their diagnosis.
Great! Now, you’re well-informed and can help your doc with the diagnosis!