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How To Survive The Rains: Common Colds and Sore Throats


Introduction

For weeks on end, it has been raining relentlessly. Parts of the city of Lagos have been flooded after heavy downpours. The all-pervading water brings with it biting cold. People tend to stay indoors, shut windows and cluster together in their homes, schools, offices and vehicles thus increasing the spread of airway infections, also known as the common cold and sore throats. Colloquially called catarrh, these are collectively called acute pharyngotonsillitis, an infection of the upper part of the respiratory tract and is common in children. The parts of the tract affected are the pharynx (pharyngitis) and tonsils (tonsillitis). It is more common in cold weather when people are in closer contact; a situation that aids its spread.


Causes/Risk Factors

Colds and sore throats are most commonly caused by a virus.  These often go away on their own after running their course. For many people, they last for a few days.

Another cause is cigarette smoke so if you smoke or inhale the smoke from someone who does, you may just have figured out why you can't seem to shake off repeated bouts of this infection...

Other forms of upper airway infections are caused by bacteria, fungi and parasites.

Symptoms

These depend on the cause and occur within days. They may look like other conditions.

  1. Sore throat- which ranges from mild irritation at the back of the mouth that comes with dryness or an itch-like sensation.

  2. Fever - a rise in body temperature accompanies many infections. Please note that it is not only seen in malaria.

  3. Headache - this could be mild, moderate or throbbing. It can interfere with work or study.

  4. Pain on swallowing- Eating and drinking become heinous tasks. This adds to the overall unpleasant feeling of a cold.

  5. Feeling of being unwell - In yet other people, this mimics the culprit of malaria. Also known as malaise, this is a symptom of many other conditions like the cold.

  6. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain - People who experience thus often do not link it to their respiratory system, but these three are present when things go wrong in systems other than the one which deals with food.


Diagnosis

Your healthcare provider makes this based on findings from the physical examination. But because antibiotics do not treat viral infections, it is important to differentiate them from bacterial infections. Thus throat swabs for culture, strep tests (which are available in a rapid form) are also used to determine if the infection is bacterial and determine treatment options.


Treatment

The cause of infection, your age, and the general state of wellbeing, allergies and medical history are factors that guide treatment of sore throats and common colds. 

For infections that are not caused by bacteria, the following are used in the treatment

  1. Paracetamol is given to help relieve the pain.

  2. Gargling with warm water and salt solution. Be careful to use only a little salt and spit it out afterwards. In addition, throat lozenges can

    soothe the soreness.

  3. Adequate rest helps the body to heal itself. In the case of viral infection, this reduces the duration of the infection.

  4. Increased fluid intake to replace losses that occur from rapid breathing, increased sweating and catarrh.


Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. This is important as infections caused by strep bacteria may lead to heart and kidney complications if left untreated.

Prevention

Healthy, balanced diet - This builds strong immunity and makes you less likely to get infections. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fluids, nuts and healthy fats are parts of a recommended diet. A lifestyle involving smoking, alcohol, high salt, fat and sugar intake diminishes the immunity and leave the body defenceless against infections of all kinds.

Adequate water intake - The body's organs need water to carry out their various functions. Water can be obtained in its clean form or as part of stews, soups, fruits and vegetables. Cucumbers, watermelons, pineapples and others are affordable and widely available.

Self Protection and Hygiene - Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze protects others. Similarly, when a person near you is having a cold, it is advisable to avoid facing them directly. If you smoke, this is another reason to consider cutting back and quitting eventually. If someone near you is smoking, avoiding the fumes is helpful. Surfaces like ceiling fans which collect dust and germs should be cleaned regularly


Handwashing can reduce the incidence of infections in general and common colds and sore throats. People who are ill often clean their noses with their hands, and then use these same hands to handle communal surfaces like countertops, doorknobs and doors. Washing your hands with soap and clean water effectively reduces the spread of this condition. It is easy, quick and it works! If you do not have access to soap and water, you could use a hand sanitizer.

Adequate sleep - a body weakened by stress can not defend itself against infections. Relaxation and relief of stress improve your wellbeing and prevents infections.

Oral probiotics have also shown a reduction in infection rates for infections caused by bacteria.

In general, colds are at best a needless discomfort and at their worst can gravely disrupt your daily life and wellbeing. Seeking prompt treatment and practising the prevention strategies above will help you reduce your chances of getting them no matter the season.


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