How to Recover from the Most Common Winter Illnesses

How to Recover from the Most Common Winter Illnesses

The winter season can be a beautiful, magical time. Who doesn’t love watching snow fall from the comfort of their home? However, when the temperatures start to drop, certain illnesses aren’t far behind. In fact, cases of the flu peak between December and February. Combine that with respiratory problems, the common cold, and other conditions, a cold winter can be a hotbed of germs.

We spoke with Dr. Malek Akhal, an immediate care specialist at Loyola Medicine, about how to treat, manage and recover from common respiratory illnesses and other cold-weather maladies so you can get you back to enjoying the season.

What are the most common winter illnesses?

While a multitude of common respiratory viruses spread during the winter, there are a few that are much more prevalent than others. People are indoors more often, allowing viruses to pass more easily from person to person. It’s also possible that the cold weather can affect a person’s immune response; reduced vitamin D levels, lower temperatures and narrowing of blood vessels from the cold can all make it harder for the body to fight off infections.

The most common winter illnesses and health conditions you may deal with during the cold months of the year are:

Dry, itchy skin. During the winter, raised thermostat settings can result in dry, indoor heat with low humidity. This creates ideal conditions for dry, flaky and itchy skin.
Bronchitis. When the lining of your bronchial tubes becomes inflamed, you may cough up thickened mucus or have difficulty breathing.
Pneumonia. This infection affects one or both of the lungs, causing the air sacs of the lungs to fill up with fluid or pus.
Strep throat. Caused by a bacterial infection, this condition can make your throat feel sore and scratchy, in addition to other symptoms including fever, swollen neck glands, rash and abdominal pain especially in children.
Flu. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by any number of influenza viruses that affect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs.

How to treat 5 common winter illnesses

  1. Dry, itchy skin

While having dry and itchy skin during the winter is very common, it’s also easily treatable. One of the primary causes of the condition is a warm environment with low humidity. Consider setting up a humidifier in your home. This device releases steam into the air, increasing the humidity. There isn’t an exact humidity percentage that works for everyone, but the ideal range is between 40 to 60 percent.

There are other lifestyle measures you can take, such as avoiding long, hot showers or baths and moisturizing particularly dry areas several times a day.

  1. Bronchitis

If you suffer from a low-grade fever, chest congestion, wheezing and/or a cough that produces colored mucus, you may have bronchitis.

Thankfully, most causes of bronchitis resolve on their own. The infection has to run its course over several days or even weeks. During that time, you can speed up the recovery process by drinking plenty of water, using a cough suppressant, resting and using a humidifier.

Because bronchitis is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective.

  1. Pneumonia

Pneumonia can be tricky to treat. It depends on your risk factors and how serious your case of pneumonia is. Most people receive medication and are sent home to recover from the illness. However, hospital treatment may be necessary if the condition is severe.

Antibiotics may be prescribed if you have bacterial pneumonia. A viral case of pneumonia could warrant antivirals instead; although, these medications don’t work against all viruses that cause the condition. Besides prescription medications, most patients are sent home to recover in a similar way to other respiratory illnesses, with rest, plenty of fluids and over-the-counter medication.

If your pneumonia is life-threatening, a hospital stay may be required. Treatments in this case could include oxygen therapy and/or an IV line.

  1. Strep throat

After being diagnosed, the patient will usually be prescribed antibiotics to treat strep throat. The medication will treat the condition, and patients may start to feel better within a couple of days.

But don’t suddenly start interacting with others. Strep throat is extremely contagious, spreading via respiratory droplets from sneezing, coughing or even simply breathing close to someone else. Stay home until you’ve taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours and you no longer have a fever. Your physician can explain how long you should stay home in greater detail.

  1. Influenza

Unfortunately, there is no medication that quickly treats the flu virus. Instead, if you contract the flu, you have to wait it out. Drinking plenty of fluids, resting at home and taking over-the-counter pain medication can help you recover. In some cases, an antiviral medication may be prescribed to shorten the disease duration.

Know that the flu vaccine does not help you recuperate from the condition. It’s only meant to prevent the influenza virus from making you sick. If you’re worried about becoming sick with the flu, contact your primary care physician to ask about receiving a yearly flu vaccine.

When to seek immediate care

When you need to be treated quickly for a non-life-threatening or non-urgent condition, such as the flu or strep throat, an immediate care center is a convenient choice to receive fast, efficient care.

A walk-in immediate care center has numerous advantages over an emergency room visit or primary care physician appointment, including:

Shorter wait times and cost effective care. A visit to the emergency room can take longer and be more expensive than a visit to an immediate care center.
No appointment needed. Your primary care doctor may not be available right away.
Convenient, economical care. Care is provided year-round, and the cost is similar to that of an appointment with your primary care doctor.

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