Cold and flu season has hit NIU

With the end of summer, the cooler and wetter days of fall are upon us, and this means the beginning of the cold and flu season. Virtually everyone is all too familiar with the typical symptoms of a cold or the flu. However, not many people realize that these symptoms are actually part of the body’s natural defense against viruses, and signs of the healing process in motion.

For example, a sore or scratchy throat is due to the inflammation of tiny blood vessels in the throat. Another common symptom is congestion from the build up of mucus in the sinus cavity, ear canals or lungs. In fact, both inflammation and congestion are by-products of your body’s natural healing response. The increased blood flow, white blood cells, and other fluids to the infected area helps your body rid itself of the foreign invader. Also, as the virus runs its course, many cells in the infected area are killed to die off, and these cells make up what we experience as congestion.

A fever is also a natural healing mechanism of the body. Viruses prefer a cool environment to thrive. Therefore, as the body heats up, viruses are less likely to multiply. In addition, as your temperature rises your metabolic rate also increases, and this speeds up the natural healing process.

It can be helpful to remember that a cold or the flu are self-limiting diseases. This means that they will go away on their own. The only time a trip to a physician is called for is when more serious complications develop. These complications can include a sinus infection, strep throat, bronchitis or pneumonia. Warning signs that signal a trip to the doctor are: a fever that lasts more than 48 hours, ear ache, white spots on the throat, nasal discharge that is green or yellow, or a cough that produces excessive amounts of mucus.

To aid your body in fighting off a virus, it is important to get plenty of rest, drink a lot of fluids, stay warm, and keep your room humid using a humidifier or hot shower. While some cold or flu medicines can help relieve symptoms, it is best to use these preparations in moderation. Try to use them only if you need relief in order to rest or sleep, but not to help you get through the day and avoid sleeping.

Of course, the ideal would be to keep from getting a cold or the flu in the first place. Generally speaking, a nutritious diet will help keep the immune system strong. Getting adequate amounts of sleep, washing your hands often, and staying away from people who are actively ill can also help prevent these common ailments.

For more information on the prevention and treatment of colds or the flu call Health Enhancement Services at 753-9755. Questions or concerns about particular cold or flu symptoms can be answered by the University Health Service at 753-9594. This article is by Sarah Newton, graduate assistant at Health Enhancement Services.