How to Deal With Winter Illnesses

The flu is spreading like wildfire in Texas --  three people have died in Dallas County --  but the common cold is getting a lot of people sick too.

So how do you deal with winter illnesses? We asked the experts.

When it comes to influenza, doctors say don't wait to get diagnosed.

"If somebody develops influenza symptoms and we can get to them within 24 to 48 hours, there are some antiviral medicines that they can use to shorten the duration of the illness and the severity of the illness," said family physician Dr. Nicholas Solomos.

Doctors said the best way to avoid the flu is to get the flu vaccine, but it's only effective about 60 percent of the time, so it's important to keep your distance from others.

"You're actually contagious a day before you're ill and that's the reason it spreads so easily," said Solomos.

Feeling bad doesn't mean you have the flu, the common cold is also keeping pharmacies busy.

So how can you tell the difference? "With colds, generally you don't feel well. You don't feel 100 percent. You may have a scratchy throat, runny nose, congestion, cough, but you don't have the severe aches and chills that you do with influenza," said Solomos.

Cold and flu symptoms generally last five to 10 days. But you can speed up your recovery time with a trip to your nearest pharmacy.

"People are coming in coughing, cold, body aches, just a general feeling of not being well," said Walgreens pharmacist Saroosh Lodhi.

Here's what pharmacists say you need to know as you navigate the aisles and aisles of over-the-counter medications.

  • For nasal congestion, go for medicine with Sudaphedrin (available behind the counter) and phenylephrine (available over the counter).
  • When it comes to a hacking cough, look for an expectorant with the letters D-M, which stands for dextromethorphan. It'll help loosen up mucus.
  • Sore throats call for antihistamine, even if you're not a typical allergy sufferer.

"It really helps with the sore throat because it's usually a histamine release that's causing that sore throat, so (try) an anti-allergy (medication) plus lozenges," said Lodhi.

Try acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat body aches and headaches.

Before you buy any medication, check with the pharmacist to make sure the medicine doesn't interfere with any other prescriptions or supplements you're taking.

And if you are sick, doctors stress the importance of getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated and staying home until you have been fever-free for more than 24 hours.

It's best to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and it's a good idea to wipe down shared work spaces with antibacterial wipes.

Also eating healthy foods and exercising regularly can go a long way to keeping you out of the doctor's office.

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