How can you fight the winter flu? APARNA KARTHIKEYAN has some answers
Apart from the hearty Happy New Year, `Atishoo' and `God bless you', pepper just about every conversation this `cold' season. For, while half the world and their babies are combating drippy noses and scratchy throats, the other half is just recovering from one. If statistics are to be believed, the average adult suffers at least one cold a year, while kids clock as many as eight! As the air turns nippy and dew blankets the world, cold, cough and flu annoyingly top the charts as the most common of all illnesses.
What causes a cold?
Colds are usually caused by the highly contagious `rhinoviruses', cheerfully infecting friend and foe, reducing them to head-pounding, puffy-faced, stuffy-nosed, sore-throated, misery. Dr. R. Jayachandran, consultant physician says that besides the documented viruses, extremes of temperature, change in climatic conditions, presence of allergens such as pollen and dust exaggerate the problem in susceptible individuals. Sriman Narayanan, software professional blames the pollution for aggravating his cold. "Also, in this season, when a cold wind blows on my face, my throat and ear gets affected," he adds. Inflamed sinuses, middle-ear infections, prolonged racking coughs and fevers are just some of the nasty fall-outs of a simple cold. "Due to the rampant infections all around in our country, secondary bacterial infections - resulting in fever and chest congestion - are common," says Dr. Jayachandran. Mythily Ramanan avers that December through February are nightmarish months for parents with small kids. "My son used to get a cold that indisposed him for 10 days, and since he also had a wheezing problem, it used to be terrible to see him lose all the weight he had just gained." Sadly none, and one just has to live it out (The popular adage a treated cold lasts a week, while an untreated one lasts 7 days! instantly comes to mind). Scientists argue that it's ridiculous to even dream of a comprehensive cold vaccine, as there are over 200 viruses that can cause it.Dr. Sujatha Sridharan, paediatrician says that when the virus is confined to the upper-respiratory-tract, there is no specific treatment plan. "But when it worsens into a lower-respiratory-tract infection, it needs to be treated with antibiotics," she advises. Dr. Jayachandran adds that over-the-counter anti histamines, decongestants, cough syrups, mild painkillers, steam inhalation and nasal drops only provide symptomatic relief, but nothing really cures the cold. India is a reservoir for un-patented home remedies. Grandmothers rightly embrace tulsi and turmeric as cure-it-alls (a stand vindicated by white-coated western researchers), while chitharathai brought at naatu marundhu shops is brewed into a concoction that's said to expectorate the phlegm. Common cold isn't exactly avian flu and the general tendency is to ignore it. But doctors warn against taking it too lightly, especially if the sufferer is old or very young. Dr. Jayachandran, stresses the importance of primary prophylaxis. "If a throat infection due to staphylococcus bacteria is left untreated, it can potentially lead to rheumatic fever, affecting the heart-valves and other parts of the body," he warns. Dr. Sujatha says that common cold, in extreme cases leads to Bronchopneumonia, while a child suffering from viral Bronchiolitis has a lot of difficulty in breathing.
It is any day better to avoid a cold than sniffling all day or coughing the lungs out! Dr. Sujatha says that preventing cross-infections in new-borns and infants is important. "Sick people should refrain from handling or kissing children, as infections spread very easily," Dr. Jayachandran advocates avoiding known allergens since they exacerbate the symptoms. Washing hands is said to be a great way to prevent the spread of this malady, which is why it's important to inculcate the habit in children. Partaking lots of fluid (chicken soup being the most famous prescription!) and using a humidifier (in Chennai of course, it's provided free!) go a long way to make one comfortable. Maintaining high standards of hygiene, coughing or sneezing into a disposable tissue and avoiding public places when one has a nasty infection can help check its dramatic spread.