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Winter ailments: differentiation is key to a speedier recovery

Published: 25/11/2014

The winter flu season is upon us, and now is the time to familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms of coughs, colds and influenza. Differentiating between these winter illnesses can mean that the appropriate treatment is given for the correct ailment, ensuring a speedier recovery.

Dr Lieske Kuitert, Consultant Respiratory Physician at The Lister Hospital, explains these differences:

“The symptoms of a viral respiratory infection (the common cold) are runny nose (the discharge may be clear or coloured), sore throat, fever and/or chills, and generally feeling unwell. There may be pain over the cheekbones from sinusitis if the infection in the sinuses is under pressure due to swelling.

True influenza (the usual winter flu is either Influenza A or influenza B) may have some symptoms like a cold but in addition a prominent feature is generalised muscle aches and pains. There may be a headache, and fever is much more commonly seen than with a cold. Extreme tiredness and weakness make many people take to their bed for a day or more. The flu symptoms start very abruptly with fever, chills, headache and muscle aches. Influenza A is the cause of most influenza outbreaks and is associated with more severe acute illness whereas influenza B generally causes milder disease.

If the lower respiratory tract is involved there may also be cough (this may be productive of infected phlegm or sputum). Even if you have a chesty cough, and are producing infected sputum (acute bronchitis) you do not usually need antibiotics. In otherwise healthy people antibiotics have been shown to reduce the duration of the illness by only one day.”

Cough is a common symptom; most are self-limiting and last less than three weeks. Any cough that lasts longer than eight weeks is chronic and requires medical attention. Identifying the underlying cause is vital to increase the likelihood of recovery.

The Lister Cough Clinic has Consultants from different specialties with expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of cough to help. Which specialist you need to see may depend on any symptoms you have in addition to cough. If necessary you may need to see more than one specialist.

Our team includes Respiratory, Ear Nose and Throat, Allergy, and Gastroenterology Consultants, specialist respiratory physiotherapists, a clinical psychologist and speech and language therapist. They are supported by tests performed in the lung function, gastroenterology physiology and imaging departments.

Your initial consultation will involve completing the Cough Questionnaire, a full assessment, and a number of investigations including, but not limited to, blood tests, breathing tests, and a chest x-ray.

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