previously published in KC Parent magazine January 2012 issue
Yes, once again we have hit the cold and flu season like a bag of bricks, and it’s a challenge to avoid catching these nasty germs. But if you follow a simple rule, you have a better chance of saving yourself some misery—not to mention some cash on the tissues and cough drops.
People often find it difficult to tell the difference between the two most common winter illnesses. Consider this information:
Common Cold Signs and Symptoms (American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Stuffy/ runny nose
- Sore throat
- Watery eyes
- Mild headache
People generally contract a cold from a cough or sneeze or direct contact with infected persons. Colds normally resolve within 7 days, but some can last up to 2 weeks. Symptoms appear 2-3 days after exposure.
Flu Signs and Symptoms (AAP)
- Sudden fever and chills (normally >101°F)
- Head and body aches
- Extreme fatigue (more than usual)
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Stuffy or runny nose
Usually after a week or two, most symptoms have disappeared. “However, it’s important to treat the flu seriously,” reports the Nemours Foundation, “because it can lead to pneumonia and other life-threatening complications, particularly in infants, senior citizens and people with long-term health problems.”
Hand Washing vs. Hand Sanitizer: Proper hand washing often is the best method to prevent common winter maladies.
Using soap and warm water and rubbing thoroughly for at least 20 seconds is recommended—which just happens to be the duration of the “Happy Birthday Song” repeated twice. “An alcohol-based hand cleanser or sanitizer works well, too,” says the AAP. “Put enough on your hands to make them all wet, then rub them together until dry.”
Hand Washing Facts:
- Use warm water.
- Use whatever soap you like. Antibacterial soaps are popular, but regular soap works fine. If you suspect that your hands have come into contact with someone with an infection, think about using an alcohol hand sanitizer.
- In public restrooms, consider using a paper towel to flush the toilet and open the door, because toilet and door handles harbor germs. Throw the towel away after you leave.
Final Words to the Winter Wise: While washing your hands more frequently and exposing them to the colder elements, use mild soaps with warm water to avoid chapping. Blot hands dry and, finally, apply a moisturizing lotion with no added fragrances or dyes.
Stacey Hatton is a pediatric RN and freelance writer.