Aida Zabidi
So I’ve succumbed to the flu – after two days of minor sniffles and cough, I found myself waking up with achy joints, nausea and the biggest headache I’ve had for awhile. I found myself unable to get out of bed due to lethargy, and ended up just calling in sick to work – the first time I’ve called in sick for a long time. 

My concerned grandmother kept popping in to see if I was okay, and although I passed it off as a minor ailment, she insisted I had a fever and told me not to bathe. 

What? Not bathe? 

“You have a fever, it’ll make it worse to bathe,” she said. 

Naturally, being scientific minded, I took a shower anyway, but it got me thinking about the perceptions that people have about the common cold. A majority of my patients come in for cough and cold, insisting on MCs (that’s another story altogether), with all sorts of ideas about their symptoms. 

Firstly, having a cough and runny nose are symptoms of nose and throat irritation, which can be caused by environmental allergens or an infection. Most commonly, it’s a combination of both. With most infections, it can be either bacterial or viral, and the confirmation of the diagnosis leads to the available treatment. 

For a regular cough and cold, the prescription of symptomatic medications is sufficient – this means giving medications to relieve the irritating symptoms. It’s also important at this time to drink lots of plain water, as the irritation will worsen when the throat is dry. The use of honey is often also recommended to soothe a sore throat, or lozenges. 

Sometimes, parents are advised to give their children ice cream to relieve their throat – this is when your doctor finds the tonsils to be enlarged. In young children, this might result in coughing and vomiting as a result of the sore throat. 

Secondly, antibiotics are not something that is regularly prescribed to everyone. The use of antibiotics is prescribed for bacterial infections , and this is a diagnosis that is reached with a combination of the symptoms and the physical examination (on occasion, this is also confirmed with a blood test). Usually doctors prescribe antibiotics when they find a source of infection, such as exudates from the tonsils, or reduced lung noises, which may lead them to suspect a bacterial infection. Antibiotics do not work for viral illnesses, which is the major cause for most flu illnesses

Because the cough and cold are infections, some myths are not correct – you can shower when you’re having the flu (even if you have a fever). If you have a high fever, this might even help keep the temperature down! If you choose not to, this really is a personal preference. 

And because most treatments are designed to treat the symptoms, not the cause of the disease, anything that helps you personally with the illness is more than welcome. Most of the time, your body will heal itself, because that’s what our bodies are designed to do – fight infections and the like.
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