Winter Infections (Episode 83, To Your Health with Dr. Jim Morrow)
Host Dr. Jim Morrow covers a variety of winter infections, including the common cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, and others. He detailed where they occur in the body, advice about when to go to the doctor, sensible measures to avoid getting sick, ways to get better once you’re sick, and much more.
To Your Health is brought to you by Village Medical (formerly Morrow Family Medicine), which brings the care back to healthcare.
About Village Medical (formerly Morrow Family Medicine)
Village Medical, formerly Morrow Family Medicine, is an award-winning, state-of-the-art family practice with offices in Cumming and Milton, Georgia. The practice combines healthcare information technology with old-fashioned care to provide the type of care that many are in search of today. Two physicians, three physician assistants and two nurse practitioners are supported by a knowledgeable and friendly staff to make your visit to Village Medical one that will remind you of the way healthcare should be. At Village Medical, we like to say we are “bringing the care back to healthcare!” The practice has been named the “Best of Forsyth” in Family Medicine in all five years of the award, is a three-time consecutive winner of the “Best of North Atlanta” by readers of Appen Media, and the 2019 winner of “Best of Life” in North Fulton County.
Village Medical offers a comprehensive suite of primary care services including preventative care, treatment for illness and injury, and management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease. Atlanta-area patients can learn more about the practice here.
Dr. Jim Morrow, Village Medical, and Host of To Your Health with Dr. Jim Morrow
Dr. Jim Morrow is the founder of Morrow Family Medicine. He has been a trailblazer and evangelist in healthcare information technology, was named Physician IT Leader of the Year by HIMSS, a HIMSS Davies Award Winner, the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce Steve Bloom Award Winner as Entrepreneur of the Year and he received a Phoenix Award as Community Leader of the Year from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. He is married to Peggie Morrow and together they founded the Forsyth BYOT Benefit, a charity in Forsyth County to support students in need of technology and devices. They have two Goldendoodles, a gaggle of grandchildren and enjoy life on and around Lake Lanier.
The complete show archive of To Your Health with Dr. Jim Morrow addresses a wide range of health and wellness topics.
Dr. Morrow’s Show Notes
What are the symptoms of the common cold?
- Common cold symptoms may include:
- Stuffy, runny nose
- Scratchy, tickly throat
- Watering eyes
- Low-grade fever
- Sore throat
- Mild hacking cough
- Achy muscles and bones
- Mild fatigue
- Watery discharge from nose that thickens and turns yellow or green
- Colds usually start 2 to 3 days after the virus enters the body and symptoms last from several days to several weeks.
- Cold symptoms may look like other medical conditions.
- Always consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis if your symptoms are severe.
- A cold and the flu (influenza) are two different illnesses.
- A cold is relatively harmless and usually clears up by itself, although sometimes it may lead to a secondary infection, such as an ear infection.
- However, the flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia and even death.
How is the common cold diagnosed?
- Most common colds are diagnosed based on reported symptoms.
- However, cold symptoms may be similar to certain bacterial infections, allergies, and other medical conditions.
- Always consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis if your symptoms are severe.
How is the common cold treated?
- Currently, there is no medicine available to cure or shorten the duration of the common cold.
- However, the following are some treatments that may help to relieve some symptoms of the cold:
- Over-the-counter cold medicines, such as decongestants and cough medicine
- Over-the-counter antihistamines (medicine that helps dry up nasal secretions and suppress coughing)
- Increased fluid intake
- Pain relievers for headache or fever
- Warm, salt water gargling for sore throat
- Petroleum jelly for raw, chapped skin around the nose and lips
- Because colds are caused by viruses, antibiotics don’t work.
- Antibiotics are only effective when given to treat bacterial infections.
- Do not give aspirin to a child who has fever.
- Aspirin, when given as treatment for viral illnesses in children, has been associated with Reye syndrome.
- This is a potentially serious or deadly disorder in children.
What are the complications of the common cold?
- Colds can lead to secondary infections, including bacterial, middle ear, and sinus infections that may require treatment with antibiotics.
- If you have a cold along with high fever, sinus pain, significantly swollen glands, or a mucus-producing cough, see your healthcare provider.
- You may need additional treatment.
Can the common cold be prevented?
- The best way to avoid catching cold is to wash your hands often and avoid close contact with people who have colds.
- When around people with colds, do not touch your nose or eyes, because your hands may be contaminated with the virus.
- If you have a cold, cough and sneeze in facial tissue and dispose of the tissue promptly.
- Then wash your hands right away.
- Also clean surfaces with disinfectants that kill viruses can halt the spread of the common cold.
- Research has shown that rhinoviruses may survive up to 3 hours outside of the nasal lining.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
- If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your healthcare provider know.
- If your symptoms don’t improve within a few days, call your provider, as you could have another type of infection.
Key points about the common cold
- A cold is caused by a virus that causes inflammation of the membranes that line the nose and throat.
- The common cold is very easily spread to others.
- It’s often spread through airborne droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air by the sick person.
- The droplets are then inhaled by another person.
- Symptoms may include a stuffy, runny nose, scratchy, tickly throat, sneezing, watery eyes and a low-grade fever.
- Treatment to reduce symptoms includes getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
- Because colds are caused by viruses, treatment with antibiotics won’t work.
- The best prevention for the common cold is frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with people who have colds.
What is acute bronchitis?
- Acute bronchitis is a contagious viral infection that causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes. These are the airways that carry air into your lungs. When these tubes get infected, they swell. Mucus (thick fluid) forms inside them. This narrows the airways, making it harder for you to breathe.
- There are 2 types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Chronic bronchitisis long-lasting and can reoccur. It usually is caused by constant irritation, such as from smoking. Acute bronchitis lasts only a short time. Most cases get better in several days, though the cough can last for several weeks.
Symptoms of acute bronchitis
- The symptoms of acute bronchitis can include:
- Chest congestion or tightness
- Cough that brings up clear, yellow, or green mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Your cough can last for several weeks or more. This happens because the bronchial tubes take a while to heal. A lasting cough may signal another problem, such as asthma or pneumonia.
What causes acute bronchitis?
- Acute bronchitis is most often caused by a contagious virus. The same viruses that cause colds can cause acute bronchitis. First, the virus affects your nose, sinuses, and throat. Then the infection travels to the lining of the bronchial tubes. As your body fights the virus, swelling occurs and mucus is produced.
- You can catch a virus from breathing it in or by skin contact. You are at higher risk of catching the virus if you have close contact with someone who has a cold or acute bronchitis.
- Lesser-known causes of acute bronchitis are:
- Bacteria or fungal infections.
- Exposure to irritants, such as smoke, dust, or fumes. You are at greater risk if your bronchial tubes already have damage.
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which causes heartburn. You can get acute bronchitis when stomach acid gets into the bronchial tubes.
How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?
- Your doctor can confirm acute bronchitis. He or she will do a physical exam and review your symptoms. He or she will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. Your doctor might order a chest X-ray to look at your lungs. This will help rule out pneumonia.
Can acute bronchitis be prevented or avoided?
- You can help prevent acute bronchitis by staying healthy and avoiding germs. Wash your hands with soap often to kill any contagious viruses.
- If you smoke, the best defense against acute bronchitis is to quit. Smoking damages your bronchial tubes and puts you at risk for infection. Smoking also slows down the healing process.
- Other steps you can take to avoid acute bronchitis include:
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth when using lung irritants. These could include paint, paint remover, or varnish.
- Get a flu shot every year.
- Ask your doctor if you should get a pneumonia shot, especially if you are over age 60.
Acute bronchitis treatment
- Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by a virus. This means that antibiotics won’t help. The infection needs to run its course. It almost always goes away on its own. Home treatment focuses on easing the symptoms:
- Drink fluids but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce inflammation, ease pain, and lower your fever. These could include acetaminophen (1 brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (1 brand name: Advil). Never give aspirin to a child. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, which can affect the liver and brain.
- Increase the humidity in your home or use a humidifier.
- There are some over-the-counter cough medicines that help break up or loosen mucus. Look for the word “guaifenesin” on the label or ask your pharmacist for a suggestion.
- Do not hold in a cough that brings up mucus. This type of cough helps clear mucus from your bronchial tubes. If you smoke, you should quit. It will help your bronchial tubes heal faster.
- Some people who have acute bronchitis need inhaled medicine. You might need this if you are wheezing. It can help open your bronchial tubes and clear out mucus. You usually take it with an inhaler. An inhaler sprays medicine right into your bronchial tubes. Your doctor will decide if this treatment is right for you.
- If your doctor thinks bacteria have caused your acute bronchitis, he or she may give you antibiotics.
Living with acute bronchitis
- Most cases of acute bronchitis go away on their own in 7 to 10 days. You should call your doctor if:
- You continue to wheeze and cough for more than 2 weeks, especially at night when you lie down or when you are active.
- You continue to cough for more than 2 weeks and have a bad-tasting fluid come up into your mouth. This may mean you have GERD. This is a condition in which stomach acid gets into your esophagus.
- Your cough produces blood, you feel weak, you have an ongoing high fever, and you are short of breath. These symptoms may mean you have pneumonia.
- The risk of developing complications from acute bronchitis, such as pneumonia, is greater in some people. These include:
What is pneumonia?
- Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It causes the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs to get inflamed (irritated and swollen). They may fill up with fluid or pus. This causes a variety of symptoms, which range from mild to severe. Pneumonia is usually caused by bacteria or a virus. It also can be caused by fungi or irritants that you breathe into your lungs. How serious pneumonia is depends on many factors. These include what caused the pneumonia, your age, and your overall health.
Symptoms of pneumonia
- The symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to severe. This depends on your risk factors and the type of pneumonia you have. Common symptoms are similar to the symptoms caused by a cold or the flu. They include:
- bringing up mucus when you cough
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- You may also sweat, have a headache, and feel very tired. Some people also experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- If any of these symptoms are severe, call your family doctor. You should also call your doctor if you suddenly start getting worse after having a cold or the flu.
What is walking pneumonia?
- Walking pneumonia is a mild case of pneumonia. It is often caused by a virus or the mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria. When you have walking pneumonia, your symptoms may not be as severe or last as long as someone who has a more serious case of pneumonia. You probably won’t need bed rest or to stay in the hospital when you have walking pneumonia.
What causes pneumonia?
- Bacteria: They are the most common cause of pneumonia in adults. They can cause pneumonia on their own, or after you’ve had a cold or the flu. Bacterial pneumonia usually only affects one area of a lung.
- Any virus that affects the respiratory tract can cause pneumonia. This includes the flu virus and the virus that causes the common cold. In children under 1 year old, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause. Viral pneumonia tends to be mild. It often gets better on its own in 1 to 3 weeks.
- Some fungal infections can lead to pneumonia, especially in people with weakened immune systems. There are also some fungi that occur in the soil in certain parts of the United States that can lead to pneumonia.
- You can also get pneumonia through aspiration. This is when you inhale particles into your lungs. These could be food, saliva, liquids, or vomit. It occurs most often after vomiting, and you are not strong enough to cough the particles out. The particles cause irritation, swelling and can get infected. This causes pneumonia.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
- Pneumonia can sometimes be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are the same as for a bad cold or flu. If you think it could be pneumonia, you should see your doctor. Your doctor may diagnose pneumonia based on your medical history and the results from a physical exam. He or she will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. Your doctor may also do some tests, such as a chest X-ray or a blood test. A chest X-ray can show your doctor if you have pneumonia and how widespread the infection is. Blood and mucus tests can help your doctor tell whether bacteria, a virus, or a fungal organism is causing your pneumonia.
Can pneumonia be prevented or avoided?
- There are many factors that can raise your risk for developing pneumonia. These include:
- Your age.People older than 65 are at increased risk because the immune system becomes less able to fight off infection as you age. Infants age 2 or younger are also at increased risk because their immune systems haven’t fully developed yet.
- Your environment.Regularly breathing in dust, chemicals, air pollution, or toxic fumes can damage your lungs. This makes your lungs more vulnerable to infection.
- Your lifestyle.Habits such as smoking cigarettes or abusing alcohol can increase your risk. Smoking damages the lungs, while alcohol interferes with how your body fights infection.
- Your immune system.If your immune system is weakened, it’s easier for you to get pneumonia because your body can’t fight off the infection. This could include people who have HIV/AIDS, have had an organ transplant, are receiving chemotherapy, or have long-term steroid use.
- If you are hospitalized, especially in an ICU.Being in the ICU (intensive care unit) raises your risk of pneumonia. Your risk increases if you are using a ventilator to help you breathe. Ventilators make it hard for you to cough and can trap germs that cause infection in your lungs.
- If you have recently had major surgery or a serious injury.Recovering from major surgery or injury can make it difficult for you to cough. This is the body’s quickest defense for getting particles out of the lungs. Recovery also typically requires a lot of bed rest. Lying down on your back for an extended period of time can allow fluid or mucus to gather in your lungs. This gives bacteria a place to grow.
- People who have any of the following conditions are also at increased risk:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- heart disease
- sickle cell disease
- You can help prevent pneumonia by doing the following:
- Get the flu vaccine each year.People can develop bacterial pneumonia after a case of the flu. You can reduce this risk by getting the yearly flu shot.
- Get the pneumococcal vaccine.This helps prevent pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria.
- Practice good hygiene.Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t smoke.Smoking damages your lungs and makes it harder for your body to defend itself from germs and disease. If you smoke, talk to your family doctor about quitting as soon as possible.
- Practice a healthy lifestyle.Eat a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables. Exercise regularly. Get plenty of sleep. These things help your immune system stay strong.
- Avoid sick people.Being around people who are sick increases your risk of catching what they have.
Is there a vaccine for pneumonia?
- There isn’t a vaccine for all types of pneumonia, but 2 vaccines are available. These help prevent pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria. The first is recommended for all children younger than 5 years of age. The second is recommended for anyone age 2 or older who is at increased risk for pneumonia. Getting the pneumonia vaccine is especially important if you:
- Are 65 years of age or older.
- Have certain chronic conditions, such as asthma, lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, sickle cell disease, or cirrhosis.
- Have a weakened immune system because of HIV/AIDS, kidney failure, a damaged or removed spleen, a recent organ transplant, or receiving chemotherapy.
- Have cochlear implants (an electronic device that helps you hear).
- The pneumococcal vaccines can’t prevent all cases of pneumonia. But they can make it less likely that people who are at risk will experience the severe, and possibly life-threatening, complications of pneumonia.
- Treatment for pneumonia depends on several factors. These include what caused your pneumonia, how severe your symptoms are, how healthy you are overall, and your age.
- For bacterial pneumonia, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics. Most of your symptoms should improve within a few days. A cough can last for several weeks. Be sure to follow your doctor’s directions carefully. Take all the antibiotic medicine that your doctor prescribes. If you don’t, some bacteria may stay in your body. This can cause your pneumonia to come back. It can also increase your risk of antibiotic resistance.
- Antibiotics don’t work to treat viral infections. If you have viral pneumonia, your doctor will likely talk to you about ways to treat your symptoms. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are available to lower fever, relieve pain, and ease your cough. However, some coughing is okay because it can help clear your lungs. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you take a cough suppressant.
- If a fungus is causing your pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medicine.
- If your case of pneumonia is severe, you may need to be hospitalized. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, you may be given oxygen to help your breathing. You might also receive antibiotics intravenously (through an IV). People who have weakened immune systems, heart disease or lung conditions, and people who were already very sick before developing pneumonia are most likely to be hospitalized. Babies, young children, and adults who are 65 years of age and older are also at increased risk.
What can I do at home to feel better?
- In addition to taking any antibiotics and/or medicine your doctor prescribes, you should also:
- Get lots of rest.Rest will help your body fight the infection.
- Drink plenty of fluids.Fluids will keep you hydrated. They can help loosen the mucus in your lungs. Try water, warm tea, and clear soups.
- Stop smoking if you smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.Smoke can make your symptoms worse. Smoking also increases your risk of developing pneumonia and other lung problems in the future. You should also avoid lit fireplaces or other areas where the air may not be clean.
- Stay home from school or work until your symptoms go away.This usually means waiting until your fever breaks and you aren’t coughing up mucus. Ask your doctor when it’s okay for you to return to school or work.
- Use a cool-mist humidifier or take a warm bath.This will help clear your lungs and make it easier for you to breathe.
Living with pneumonia
- Your doctor may schedule a follow-up appointment after he or she diagnoses you with pneumonia. At this visit, he or she might take another chest X-ray to make sure the pneumonia infection is clearing up. Keep in mind that chest X-rays can take months to return to normal. However, if your symptoms are not improving, your doctor may decide to try another form of treatment.
- Although you may be feeling better, it’s important to keep your follow-up appointment. The infection can still be in your lungs even if you’re no longer experiencing symptoms.
When should I see my doctor?
- Pneumonia can be life-threatening if left untreated, especially for certain at-risk people. You should call your doctor if you have a cough that won’t go away, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a fever. You should also call your doctor if you suddenly begin to feel worse after having a cold or the flu.
What is whooping cough?
- Whooping cough is a respiratory infection. It is also known as pertussis. Whooping cough is highly contagious and is most harmful to babies.
Symptoms of whooping cough
- Whooping cough begins like a cold. Symptoms can start a few days to several weeks after exposure. Early symptoms last 1 to 2 weeks and include:
- Low fever
- Mild cough
- Runny nose
- Dry or sore throat
- Apnea (a pause in breathing or shallow breathing, often during sleep)
- Your cough can get worse over time. Late-stage symptoms include:
- Coughing fits that end in a “whooping” sound
- Bursts of coughing that last longer
- Vomiting after coughing
- Getting red or blue in the face from coughing
- Feeling exhausted after coughing
- Increased coughing at night
- Worsened apnea
- Symptoms vary in babies and children, teenagers, and adults. For instance, babies cough less and are more likely to have apnea and turn blue. If you received the vaccine, symptoms will be milder and won’t last as long.
What causes whooping cough?
- Whooping cough is caused by certain germs, or bacteria. You can get whooping cough if you breathe in these bacteria. It spreads between people when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You also can get it by touching an infected person or surface.
How is whooping cough diagnosed?
- You should see your doctor if you or someone around you might have whooping cough. Your doctor will review your symptoms and listen to your cough. There are several tests to confirm whooping cough. Your doctor can swab inside your nose and/or throat. A lab will check the swab for whooping cough bacteria. Your doctor also may want to get a blood sample or take a chest X-ray.
Can whooping cough be prevented or avoided?
- Vaccination is the best way to prevent whooping cough. The pertussis vaccine (DTaP, Tdap) is part of the recommended vaccine schedule for children and adults. Adults should get a pertussis booster every 5-10 years. Pregnant women and those in close contact with babies should be vaccinated. Talk to your doctor to make sure you and your family’s vaccinations are up to date.
Whooping cough treatment
- Your doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics. These will relieve your symptoms and kill the bacteria so you aren’t contagious. Infants and babies may need to stay in the hospital. If you have whooping cough, you should avoid contact with others, especially babies.
Living with whooping cough
- Whooping cough can last anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks. You may continue to cough on and off, even with medicine. Over-the-counter medicines for coughing do not help with whooping cough. You should rest and drink fluids to prevent dehydration. You can try using a cool-mist humidifier or taking a warm bath or shower. These can help clear your lungs and make it easier to breathe. Avoid smoking and areas where the air is not clean. You may need to stay home from work or school. Talk to your doctor about when you can return to your regular schedule.