Cold, flu hard to tell apart – or tame

    OK, OK. You don’t feel well. Sniffles, stuffy nose, maybe a sore throat. Is it just a cold, or is the flu stalking you? Don’t worry, NewsWorks got the doctor on the phone.

    Dr. James Palmer says it could be a cold, maybe the flu. Both are viral infections, but Palmer says the flu typically comes with muscle aches and a low grade fever.

    “You don’t necessarily have definite symptoms of your upper respiratory tract which is basically blowing out thick snot and having a sore throat,” he said.

    Palmer is an ear, nose, and throat specialist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania but cares for plenty of common colds too.

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    “The first maneuver is to wash out your nose with saline twice a day,” he said.

    Those neti pots that some people use do work, but Palmer likes the power wash you get from the saline nasal sprays you buy at the drug store.

    “The next things are the things that make you feel better, obviously, some ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or regular ol’ aspirin to decrease your fever and make you feel a little bit better,” Palmer said.

    An antiviral medicine can shorten the time you suffer with flu, but other than chicken soup, rest and time, there are no surefire treatments for either flu or cold.

    When patients come in complaining, Palmer tries to figure out if the problem is a cold or flu virus, or whether the sinus inflammation is from bacteria.

    “If those symptoms are five days or less it’s probably a viral infection, because we know that viral infections get better. If the symptoms keep going — and worsen — that’s when you would think of a bacterial infection,” he said.

    Antibiotics work well for sinus inflammation caused by bacteria, but Palmer  prescribes those sparingly. The more antibiotics we use as a nation, the greater chance of creating drug resistant bacteria.

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