Spring colds are common, can be treated with hand washing and fluids

The season for snow and ice has passed, but spring and summer colds are still in season.
Lisa Orzechowski, a licensed practical nurse at Clifton Park Family Practice, wears a smile as she lathers up over an examination room sink. Frequent hand-washings are a sure way to prevent colds and flu. (Jeff Wilkin)
Lisa Orzechowski, a licensed practical nurse at Clifton Park Family Practice, wears a smile as she lathers up over an examination room sink. Frequent hand-washings are a sure way to prevent colds and flu. (Jeff Wilkin)

Winter has cashed out, so people have put away their gloves and scarves.

They’ve stashed snow shovels and ice scrapers in a corner of the garage, found space for space heaters and extra blankets in the attic.

Cough drops, decongestants and day and night serums for cold and flu remain in bathroom medicine cabinets. The season for snow and ice has passed, but spring and summer colds are still in season.

People afflicted complain about their bad luck at work, in the neighborhood, in church pews or supermarket aisles. They’ve endured cold weather months without a sneeze or sniffle, but have suddenly come down with a May version of the common cold.

Medical professionals say such developments are not that uncommon. Colds are always around.

“I wouldn’t say we’re seeing more spring colds this time of year,” said Gail Casals, a family nurse practitioner at Clifton Park Family Medicine. “I would say that we’ve had a pretty quiet winter in terms of respiratory illnesses and probably the last three or four weeks, we’ve seen an increase in incidents of respiratory illnesses, but they’ve been of a mixed variety. There has been some flu, there’s been some flu-like viruses and there is always what we would refer to as the common cold.”

And it’s kind of common for people to catch one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, most people get colds during the winter and spring. But they can get sore throats, runny noses, coughs, sneezes, watery eyes, headaches and body aches any time of the year.

The Centers offer some key facts:

• Every year, adults have an average of 2 to 3 colds, with children having even more.

• Many viruses can cause colds, but rhinoviruses are most common. These germs spread through the air and through close personal contact.

• There is no cure for a cold. People with colds should get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.

• To reduce your risk of getting a cold, wash hands often with soap and water, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

It’s easy to mix up cold and flu. The CDC says the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme fatigue and dry cough are more common and more intense. Colds are generally milder, and do not result in more serious problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalization.

For people with colds, they should not think antibiotics are going to get them back on their feet.

Incorrect treatment

The CDC said antibiotics do not work against viruses. If taken unnecessarily, they may make it harder for the body to fight future bacterial infections.

Some people might want to blames their health woes on the change of seasons. Casals said that’s not the way to go.

“There’s no real medical evidence that season changes will bring about a respiratory illness,” she said. “You may have allergies, and in the spring you have everything that’s budding, pollen is out and allergies can often mimic cold symptoms.”

People are vulnerable through a variety of circumstances.

“You can get it through airborne, somebody else sneezing or coughing,” Casals said. “You can get it through hand contact, you can touch a contaminated surface.”

Then, touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands can cause problems. The CDC said viruses that cause colds can easily enter the body.

Casals is bullish on keep germs off the hands, and that means frequent lathers with soaps or sanitizers.

“Hand washing is really the most effective way of preventing colds,” she said. “And, avoiding other people that are sick. I think in this day and age, it’s very difficult with kids going to day care. They bring home these illnesses and people go to work sick.”

Dr. Joseph Wayne, associate professor of medicine at Albany Medical College, also recommends lather for germ elimination. “Soap and water is probably better than the antiseptic lotions,” Wayne said. “Statistically, they’re better. The sanitizers work fine, but old-fashioned soap and water is still the best.”

Coughing or sneezing into tissues is also a smart course of action. Germs just don’t fall to the ground after leaving a body via cold-related outburst.

“They tend to float around a little bit,” Wayne said, adding people should avoid the guy fighting a cold at work.

Those fights, Wayne said, are best fought at home — when there are not 20 or 30 co-workers around. So people who soldier into work when they feel lousy should re-think their bravery, although Wayne said people have reasons for bringing their colds to the job.

“People don’t get a lot of sick days, sometimes it’s personal time they have to take,” he said. “They don’t want to use that, they’d rather save it for vacation. But it would be better, if you want to stop the spread.

“You can’t do anything the first day when you say, ‘Oh, I think I’m getting sick.’” Wayne added. “But when you wake up the next day and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m not good,’ that’s the day to stay home.”

Psychologically, people are generally not prepared for a spring or summer bout with the flu.

“There may be some expectation you shouldn’t be getting a cold in nice weather,” Casals said, adding that some myths come into the house along with a cold. Going outside in cold weather is not going to invite flu or cold into personal systems. Going outside with wet hair, or going outside without a hat during cold weather, are also not sure bets for securing a cold.

Fluids can help

Casals said patients are encouraged to relieve their conditions.

“That’s the best thing we can do,” she said. “If your throat is a little sore, drinking lots of fluids will sooth your throat. With a cold, you frequently have nasal congestion and sometimes with hot beverages, the steam will help relieve that nasal congestion. So I think most of the things we do are just to relieve the symptoms.”

For drink choices — Casals recommends everything except sugar-loaded sodas. Water — a little lemon or lime can be added — works fine. So does hot tea with honey, and Casals notes honey is a good cough suppressant.

Juices can also contain sugar, so people might want to take it easy with the grape and orange varieties. Lemonade and limeade are also big on sugar.

There’s no sugar in fresh air. But it may not matter, anyway.

“It may make you psychologically feel better,” Casals said. “There’s a huge body-mind connection, so when you feel well emotionally, you certainly feel much better physically.”

Analgesic drugs, such as Tylenol or Advil, will help with fever reduction. But doctors believe the only thing that’s going to knock out a cold or flu — in any season — is time.

“You kind of have to wait it out,” Casals said. “And it should only last several days. If something lasts longer than that, we begin suspecting other illnesses.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.

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