In the blink of an eye, boozy summer nights have turned into cold, sick months. And unless you’re into that kind of stuff, it’s safe to say the snowy months leading into the spring can be dark and depressing. Instead of staying out late with your friends on a work night, you come home exhausted with a tickle in your throat and an annoying cough. It seems that our “colds” or “chills” last until spring begins, but our workload doesn’t call for sick days or R&R.
There are ways to cope with viruses and infections all year round, but it’s also important to know when you need to give yourself a break and see a doctor.
The most common illness of all. Colds are viral infections that usually last about two to three weeks. If you have a bad cough, running nose, and some aches, it usually doesn’t require medical attention. But if you are feeling constantly exhausted, or like you may faint, it’s probably time to get yourself checked out. Vomiting, chest pressure, confusion, chest pain, and a prolonged fever are also signs this may be more than a short-lived virus. If your symptoms get worse instead of better or your cough lasts more than 10 days, do yourself a favor and get it checked.
2. Sore throats
Typically accompanied by colds, sore throats usually are a result of mucus drainage or an airborne allergen. Sore throats are caused by low humidity, smoking, air pollution, yelling, or breathing through the mouth when your nose is clogged. Strep is a less common illness but can affect nearly anyone. According to the American Osteopathic Association, if your sore throat is accompanied by swollen tonsils or adenoids, a fever, or an inability to sleep at night, see a doctor. A quick bout of antibiotics will clear up any bacterial infection you have almost immediately. Those who get strep often may notice a stinging sensation and severe inflammation in the back of their throat when the infection arises.
Flu is the second most common illness in the U.S. The flu shot is given each year because millions of people are affected by it, some more gravely than others. Flu symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, extreme tiredness, cough, and a runny nose. The No. 1 way to prevent this common illness is to get a flu shot each year as recommended by the CDC. The flu is a tricky disease because antibiotics don’t help even the worst of flu symptoms, and instead, self-treatment like ibuprofen, rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter decongestants are required. But the flu can easily lead to pneumonia or bronchitis. If you start experiencing chest pain, wheezing, long-lasting high fever, bluish-colored lips or nails, or shortness of breath, immediately see a doctor.
4. Norovirus or stomach flu
When you were a kid, this was the disease that one kid got and the rest of the school contracted. It was the sickness that caused you to be weary of any human interaction, fearful that you may be its next victim. Parents hated it; kids hated it; everyone hated it. Don’t be fooled, the stomach flu hits at any age, and unfortunately, you may not be living with a parent that can dote on you while you’re down and out. Although the stomach flu only lasts 24 to 48 hours, it causes massive dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea and leaves you pretty much out of commission. The stomach flu, like the flu, can’t be fixed with antibiotics, but if you have a high fever, blood in your vomit or stools, dehydration to the point where you can’t pee, or swollen stomach pain, it is time to see your doctor.
5. Ear pain/infection
Ear pain is most common in the winter because of climate and altitude change. It is also often the result of a sinus infection or common cold and heals up on its own without the help of antibiotics. The good news is that ear pain or infection isn’t transmittable from person to person. If you endure ear pain that lasts more than two weeks or is accompanied by discharge, hearing loss, or a fever, call your doctor.
Bronchitis is like the common cold on steroids and sounds a lot scarier. But contrary to what many believe, you do not always need antibiotics for bronchitis because it typically clears up on its own after one to three weeks. But when it lasts about a month or longer, antibiotics and steroids may be necessary. Normal bronchitis symptoms are chest discomfort, cough, fatigue, and a low-grade fever. Dangerous symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, discolored mucus, and lack of sleep due to coughing or wheezing. See a doctor if you experience any of the formerly mentioned symptoms.