I’m gradually transferring popular posts from another site I publish, MyFamilyDoctorMag.com, to this one. They’re located in my new general-health section. Many were written by guest authors, and they’re all really good. Check them out. I think this one, though, meets The Survival Doctor criteria well enough to be a featured post.
Q. Doctor, my nose has been running for three days, and now it’s green! What does that mean?
A. Clear, watery nasal discharge [ahem, snot] can herald the start of a cold. As the body begins to combat the illness, white blood cells rush to defend the injured tissues. This immune response turns the clear secretions cloudy and colors them green and yellow. It’s the natural progression of the illness, and the colors indicate only that the body is mounting an immune response.
—Eva F. Briggs, M.D., board-certified family physician in Marcellus, N.Y.
Does Green Snot Mean Infection?
Q: Does green snot mean I have an infection?
A. Don’t worry if your snot turns green. That just means your body is fighting the cold with white blood cells (which contain green enzymes). It doesn’t mean you need antibiotics.
Q. Why do my muscles ache when I’m sick?
A. During an illness, your body releases certain natural chemicals to activate your immune system. These chemicals can stimulate pain-nerve endings in your muscles, causing aches.
—Emmanuel Rodriguez, M.D., M.P.H., infectious-disease specialist, NorthReach Internal Medicine Clinic, Marienette, Wis.; attending physician and hospital epidemiologist, Bay Area Medical Center; board certified in internal medicine
Q. Why do I have a funny taste when I’m sick?
A. The chemicals can also affect taste nerves. This is often your body’s response to the sickness; it doesn’t usually mean that something is wrong with your taste (or your muscles). Once you recover, the taste and muscle aches should go away.
Can a Virus Turn Into Bacteria?
Q. How can a viral infection (like a cold) turn into a bacterial infection (like sinusitis)?
A. A virus does not become a bacterium but may generate the right environment for bacteria to multiply, leading to secondary infections.
During a viral infection, mucus increases, membranes become swollen and mucus clearance decreases. This can lead to blockage. Secretions then get trapped and become excellent culture media for bacterial infections to ensue.
Q. Can you catch the same cold twice?
A. Within a few days after you get a cold, your immune system begins producing specific antibodies that prevent the virus from infecting more cells. Once you recover, you’ll be immune to that specific virus. However, many viruses can cause a common cold, and you could still get infected from a different strain.
—Shirley Tozzi, M.D., infectious-disease specialist, Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Boston, Mass.
Q. Why do some people have weaker immune systems than others?
A. Our immune systems are affected by a combination of genes and lifestyle. Factors such as diet, sleep, medications, exercise and, of course, certain diseases, can partly affect our ability to fight infections.
Q. Do doctors and nurses have stronger immune systems than other people? Is that why they don’t catch what their patients have?
A. That’s a myth. Hopefully, we just use frequent hand-washing and respiratory etiquette. During flu seasons, health-care workers are actually considered a relatively high-risk population because they’re exposed to people with the flu and can easily pass it on to other patients. They should get vaccinated yearly.
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Flu Vs. Stomach Flu
Q. What’s the difference between the flu and the stomach flu?
A. The flu refers to a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms include a relatively abrupt onset of high fever, chills, respiratory symptoms, muscle aches and fatigue.
The stomach flu is not a technical term, but it usually refers to illnesses of the digestive tract that cause symptoms such nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort and watery diarrhea, often along with low fever, fatigue and muscle aches.
—Kevin S. Liu, M.D., board-certified family doctor in Keller, Texas
Q. How do I know if I need to go to the doctor for my cold or if I’ll just get over it?
A. See a doctor if you have a fever or are short of breath, or your cold is not beginning to improve after one week. Expect a typical cold to last seven to 14 days.
Q. How do I know if I need antibiotics?
A. If you have an upper respiratory infection, it’s most likely a cold. Treat your symptoms with over-the counter-medication. But if you’re running a fever over 100.5 or you’ve been sick for seven to 10 days, see your health-care provider. He or she will evaluate whether you have a bacterial infection (such as sinusitis) and prescribe antibiotics, if appropriate.
—Marianne Beck, R.N., 25 years of experience as a nurse, including medical/surgical nursing, urgent care, ophthalmology and outpatient surgery
Q. How can I treat a cold at home?
A. Over-the-counter medications, including pain relievers, decongestants and simple throat lozenges, are your best bet. Also, get plenty of rest and fluids. Antibiotics don’t affect the viruses that cause colds.
Q. Why do doctors tell you to drink clear liquids when you’re sick? And what are clear liquids?
A. Clear liquids, such as water, soda, broth and even popsicles, have no solid particles and are at least somewhat see-through. Since eating solid food and drinking large amounts at a time can be hard when you’re sick, your doctor may tell you to take small but frequent sips of clear liquids to maintain your body’s fluid intake.