Most people will catch a cold sooner or later each year. Colds consist of coughing, runny nose, chills, fatigue, body aches and a fever. Some colds are short, but some linger on just enough to make your winter miserable. Colds that hang around too long can develop into much more serious infections, the flu or worse. A combination of these can be life-threatening.
People who get the flu usually recover in about 5 to 14 days, but some people may develop complications resulting from the flu. For certain populations, such as the elderly and young children, the flu can be dangerous, even life-threatening. You may need to go to the ER for fluids and/or medical treatment if your condition worsens. So, how do you know when a simple case of the “flu” has gotten serious? There are several signs and symptoms that you should be aware of and you should see your doctor immediately if you notice your flu symptoms aren’t getting better.
Serious and Persistent Symptoms
If your symptoms of the flu improve, but then come back in a few days and/or you have a high fever and a worse cough, or any of the symptoms below you should seek medical care.
- Persistent and/or severe vomiting or diarrhea
- Coughing up blood
- Stiff neck
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, rapid breathing and/or wheezing
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Difficult to wake up
- Skin that is turning gray or bluish
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
Each year, manufacturers develop a vaccine to help prevent against the flu virus. It is generally recommended that everyone aged six months and older get a flu vaccine, especially those who are at high risk for more serious complications to develop from the flu. If you have not had a flu shot and you get the flu, its encouraged to get the flu shot once you are well. You may have had only one strain of flu and a flu shot will help prevent getting the other strains going around.
Unfortunately, the flu is a common cause of pneumonia and combing pneumonia with the flu can be life-threatening. Pneumonia causes excess fluid to buildup in the lungs, which in turn reduces the oxygen supply to your lungs as well as other tissues in your body. If you have/had the flu, but are also noticing symptoms of pneumonia, which may include shortness of breath, aches and pains in the chest, extreme fatigue and fever, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
An ear infection may develop as a result of inflammation in the inner ear and the throat caused by the flu virus. Children are especially at risk for getting an ear infection resulting from the flu, especially when the virus directly attacks the inner ear. Children with excessive sneezing, runny noses and coughing frequently have a buildup of fluid in the ear, which provides the ideal environment for bacterial infections. If you notice these symptoms in children not improving after three to four days, they should be seeking medical care.
Gross, right? Snot is not something you want to talk about, let alone look at. But the color of your mucus (snot) can let you know the seriousness of your illness. Use this snot chart to see if you have a simple cold or full-blown infection. If it’s more on the green side, you have an infection, whether it be respiratory or the flu, and you should seek medical attention before it develops any further.
Proper Hand-Washing Techniques
Still, the best way to prevent infection is with proper hand-washing. Hand washing techniques using soap and water are the best way to rid your hands of germs. If your hands contain any apparent and visible dirt, grease or other residue, soap and water are best. Here is the proper technique:
- Get your hands wet with either hot or cold water
- Apply soap
- Rub hands together to lather
- Scrub your hands, including the back of your hands, under fingernails and especially in the crevices between fingers
- Rub hands together and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If you need a timer, sing the Happy Birthday song twice in your head and that is 20 seconds!
- Rinse hands under running water
- Use a clean towel to dry hands. If not available, let your hands air dry.
Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer
When water is not an option, alcohol-based hand sanitizers (containing at least 60 percent alcohol) are a good substitute.
- Generously place the product on both the front and back of your hands as well as your fingers and wait until your hands are dry.
- Please note that alcohol-based sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and they may not remove other chemicals like pesticides that might be on your hands.
- Also, because these products contain such a high alcohol concentration, do not use them around any open flames as they are highly flammable.
You should always wash your hands before and after treating a wound, and before and after helping someone who is sick. Be sure to wash your hands after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, and after touching any animals. You should absolutely wash your hands when using the toilet, and after helping a child use the toilet or after you’ve changed a diaper. Door handles are especially prone to germs and you should avoid touching all together if possible.
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Our top priority is bringing high quality emergency care, quickly and easily to your family. We are committed to making patients feel better faster in a comforting and compassionate environment.
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