It’s pretty amazing how fast germs spread in a school setting. Late Sunday night I awoke to moans of “Mamaaaaaaaaaaaa” and rushed into my son’s room only to find my poor little guy standing in his crib because he was so congested. He has been perfectly healthy for months and months, and after only two days back at daycare after Christmas vacation, he’s down sick. And after being exposed to my sick toddler, his dad, grandfather, and aunt all have nasty colds too.
If germs can swirl through a classroom that fast, just imagine how bad it would be if just one of those kids brought the flu to school. That’s why we’re getting vaccinated. Keenan has already had his flu shot for the year, and although I’m ridiculously needle-phobic, I plan on getting mine pretty soon.
Now let’s turn to another common fall culprit: the common cold. My poor son is coughing and sneezing in his crib at this very moment, and I feel terrible that there’s nothing I can do other than turn on the humidifier, since he’s too young for decongestants.
As a first-time parent, I’ve become “that mom” who calls the pediatrician at every turn just to make absolutely sure he doesn’t need to go in to see the doctor. The tricky thing about the common cold is that it can be hard to tell if it’s just a cold, or if it’s allergies, or even the flu. Why does this matter? Well, quite simply, it can save you a lot of time and money. It’s frustrating to pay expensive insurance co-pays if the doctor can’t do anything to help you or your child anyway.
Let’s break down the differences between allergies and the common cold. Colds are caused by a virus and are therefore contagious, while allergies are caused by an overactive immune system which sparks unpleasant bodily responses. Since colds and allergies have many symptoms in common, it’s hard to say for certain that a particular symptom means you have one or the other. The one thing that can be a tell-tale factor, however, is that colds often result in yellowish mucus, while allergy mucus is clear. Gross, I know, but it’s a good way to figure out what kind of symptom-relief medicines you should be taking. You can learn more about the difference between colds and allergies right here.
Now let’s talk about something more serious: How can you tell the difference between the cold and the flu? The flu shares many symptoms with the cold, so it can be pretty hard to distinguish the two. One sign that should tip you off is the presence of fever. A fever of 100-102° that lasts three to four days is a good sign that you have the flu. Also, people infected with the flu are more likely to have aches, fatigue, headaches, and exhaustion.
Each of these three similar conditions has different treatments. Allergies have a number of treatments. Many people take over-the-counter drugs with antihistamines to treat allergy symptoms. Decongestants are also a good option. As for cold and flu, there are many “cold and flu” specific medications available over-the-counter. You can use anything from Aspirin to decongestants. While flu symptoms can be masked with many of these medications, you may consider calling your doctor to ask about antiviral drugs.
Allergies, colds, and the flu are all prevalent in the fall, but unfortunately none of them have a “cure.” That’s why it’s important to talk about prevention.
Cold and flu viruses are most often spread by contact. Preventing colds is a simple matter of hygiene. You can’t guarantee that you won’t get it, but by frequent hand washing and disinfecting, you stand a better chance of not catching a cold. To stop germs from spreading at home, wash your hands (and your kid’s hands) frequently with warm water and soap. You should wash for at least 20 seconds at a time. Also, you can prevent the virus from spreading from one family member to another by disinfecting common surfaces. Disinfecting wipes work just fine. You should also try to prevent sharing food or drinks.
Preventing the flu requires the same level of hygiene, but you should also consider scheduling a vaccine. Flu can become a serious illness, especially for the elderly, so vaccinations become very important every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a person’s best chance at not catching the flu is to get the seasonal flu vaccine. It helps protect the whole community, too. The more people that get vaccinated against the flu, the less flu virus will impact that community.
So who really needs to get vaccinated? In short, everyone. But specifically, the CDC recommends the vaccine to pregnant women, anyone 65 and older, and anyone who is potentially at risk of developing serious complications from the flu, which includes people with asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease. In addition, anyone who is in close contact with these groups of people should take care to get vaccinated. I got my son vaccinated to protect him, but if I really want to make sure he won’t catch it, I have to ensure that I, as well as all of his other caregivers get vaccines as well.
Vaccines and prevention are important. With all the places your family could pick up germs this season, make sure to do some extra hand-washing, and talk to your doctor about a flu vaccine. Stay healthy!