Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Be Wise About the Flu

Learn about Who Needs A Flu Vaccine.
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldvax.htm

Cold And Flu Treatment: Get it Right or Get Worse

With the best of intentions, the choices we make in treating illness for ourselves or for our children are not always right. Even simple over-the-counter cold treatments or flu medicines can make matters worse with the wrong selection.With nearly all states across the U.S. presently experiencing a flu outbreak, it’s the right time to make the right treatment choice and get your health back on track.

To get advice specifically on cold remedies, see our article on what works/what doesn’t. But to clear up any confusion you may have on flu symptoms and flu treatments , here are three valuable tips.

Tip 1:  When to choose cough suppressants vs. cough expectorants

One of the most common errors in treating the flu is in the selection of cough medicines. The selection of cough treatments in most drug stores is overwhelming, especially when you’re not feeling well. Before you grab the first bottle you see, first understand the key difference between a cough expectorant and a cough suppressant.:
  • A medicine labeled as a cough expectorant is designed to increase your coughing and make it more “productive” by increasing mucous production, also known as phlegm. 
  • A medicine labeled as a cough suppressant or antitussive seeks to reduce coughing, or at least suppress the urge to cough. 
You no doubt understand why you may want to reduce coughing; it’s not enjoyable and can even hurt, or at least hurt your ability to get a good night’s sleep! But, why would you want to promote coughing with a cough expectorant? Because a productive cough removes bacteria from your lungs, helping you to heal more quickly or reduce the severity of your cold or flu.
Encourage wet coughs, discourage dry coughs
Make your choice between a cough suppressant or cough expectorant according to what kind of cough you are experiencing:
  • A “wet” cough loaded down with that gross-sounding stuff is actually good for you, since all that mucous is packed with bacteria that needs to leave your body. So, encourage that wet cough, since its likely helping your body fight the infection.
  • A “dry” cough is loaded with little more than frustration. It usually comes from that throat tickle you feel when you've got the flu, rather than from the body’s efforts to expel phlegm.  Especially if the dry cough is inducing insomnia, suppressing the desire to cough is likely the best solution.
A cough expectorant usually employs a drug such as Guaifenesin to loosen up the mucus, clearing the lungs. Most cough suppressants try to reduce the desire to cough by coating the throat or by using the drug Dextromethorphan (often abbreviated DM) to block the cough reflex.

Tip 2: Sometimes, less is more....

Many doctors feel that the right solution for a cough is to trust the body to make the right decision regarding whether or not to cough: in other words, to not take a flu treatment medicine unless your symptoms are interfering with your sleep or other necessary activities. Particularly if you smoke, have asthma, or have emphysema, coughing may clear up your lungs and reduce flu symptoms and some OTC medicines may interfere.

Another reason some doctors treat flu symptoms conservatively is because of possible side effects.  For example, dextromethorphan may interact negatively with certain medicines, such as antidepressants. As well, many combination cold and cough medicines contain decongestants that can create risks for those with high blood pressure or heart disease, since decongestants can raise blood pressure. Even if you don’t have these health conditions, many cough and cold over-the-counter medicines have ingredients that can increase anxiety. 

Before you go for medicines, consider relieving symptoms with these CDC-recommended solutions for upper respiratory problems:
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer.
  • Avoid smoking, second-hand smoke, and other pollutants (airborne chemicals or irritants).
If you feel the need for symptom relief through medicines, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends starting with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to relieve pain or fever (read about what is safe to give your child). With any cough, cold, or flu medicines in your cabinet, check the expiration date and dispose of them if expired. The CDC also cautions against giving children younger than age four any medicines that are intended for older children and giving your child two medicines that contain the same ingredients – a common risk with multiple-symptom cold medicines.

Tip 3:  Know when to go to the doctor

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Knowing when to let a flu run its course vs. seeking professional medical help is a difficult decision. While most people recover in less than two weeks, some develop complications such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening and result in death. Since the flu, also known as influenza, can be dangerous, especially for people 65 and older, young children, and people with certain health conditions, such as COPD, it is always best to see a doctor if you are at all unsure of the severity or risk.

If you’ve already got flu symptoms, CDC recommends that any particularly high risk persons seek care as soon as possible for flu symptoms (such as fever, cough, sore throat runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches) because antiviral treatment can avert serious flu outcome. 
Prevention is the best medicine, of course. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. CDC routinely recommends vaccination as long as influenza viruses are circulating.

For more in-depth information on the flu, including flu symptoms, flu relief, flu treatment, and flu statistics, see CDC’s online seasonal influenza center.

If your doctor prescribes prescription strength cough medicines, remember that the FamilyWize prescription drug card can be downloaded for free by clicking on the link in the upper, right-hand corner of this article. Save up to 75% on prescription medications. If you need assistance with medical help, please visit our community resource page for your state to find low cost or free health services and clinics.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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