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Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Do you have the sniffles? Aches? A cough? It’s that time of year again, but what do you really have? A cold? The flu? Or is it allergies? Health editor Janice Kerr is here today to help you figure out just what ails you. -- AP

Thanks, Anastasia! Sometimes it’s not easy to tell exactly what it is you have, and taking the wrong treatment can either do nothing to alleviate your symptoms or may actually make them worse. So before you reach for the decongestant, here are a few tips to help you determine what you have.

Colds are viruses. They usually last 3-5 days, but symptoms can linger for several days after the virus is gone from your body. Signs of a cold can include a hacking, mucous-producing cough along with a stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, slight body ache, and mild chest discomfort. Fever and headaches are fairly uncommon with colds, and tiredness is fairly mild. Cold symptoms general develop over the course of several days. The best defense against catching a cold is to wash your hands frequently.

Flu is also a virus, but it generally comes on quite quickly, usually within 3-6 hours. Symptoms can include fever, a dry cough, severe aches and pains, chills, tiredness, and chest discomfort. Sneezing, a stuffy nose, and a sore throat are not commonly present with the flu, but headache is. The best defense against the flu is to get an annual flu shot. However, since there are many different strains of flu and the shots only protect against the three that scientists believe will be present any given year, you can still get one of the strains not included in the inoculation.

Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to something that is generally not a common threat. Some of the more common allergies are pollen, ragweed, dust, mold, and pet dander. These types of allergies come on slowly (as opposed to certain food allergies) and will linger for as long as the allergen is present. For allergies to pollen and ragweed, this is usually 3-4 weeks. These allergies generally produce sneezing, sniffles watery eyes, itching, and sometimes rashes. The best defense against allergies is to avoid the allergen. When that’s not possible, allergy shots work for many people, or you can take over-the-counter allergy medications as needed, but always consult with your doctor first.

Thanks, Janice! I’m sure you’ve helped many of our readers today. Readers, what are some of your tips for dealing with or preventing colds, allergies, and the flu? Post a comment to be entered into our drawing for a free book from our Book Club Friday guest author. -- AP


Cindi J said...

Thanks for the great information

Lisa said...

I’ve tried all sorts of coughing syrups, believe me, but none of them helps. Even though Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa http://www.geocities.jp/ninjiom_hong_kong/index_e.htm does not eliminates the cough I like to stick to this chinese syrup I’ve been taking since I was a kid: Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa. My grandfather is chinese, so I guess my mom got the advice from him. I was really surprised when I found that chinese market selling it here in Belgium. It does have a refreshing, soothing, sweetening effect…as long as it lasts…then back to coughing mode.


Lisa, Janice tells me she doesn't know that any cough syrup will get rid of a cough. They all only suppress the cough for a certain amount of time. And every cough syrup will work differently for different people. It's often a matter of trial and error until you find one that works best for you.