Cold and Flu
Colds and flu are both forms of viral infections. They differ in the type of virus that causes them and the way that virus impacts our bodies causing symptoms.
Colds are specifically an upper respiratory viral infection. The most common type of virus to cause a cold is rhinovirus. These viral infections affect various parts of the respiratory tract including the nose, ears, eyes, throat, and sinuses causing inflammation resulting in rhinitis, sinusitis or rhinosinusitis depending on which areas it inflames.
Influenza or the flu is a specific kind of viral infection that causes a respiratory tract infection. It is caused by the influenza virus.
It is often a more severe illness than a cold and causes a much more intense immune system reaction such as a high fever. This results in more intense symptoms during the infection.
Many other viruses trigger a strong feeling of illness, not just the actual influenza virus. The term flu is only used to describe a viral infection that is triggered by the influenza virus. If other viruses trigger similar symptoms, it is a flu-like infection.
What are some common flu symptoms?
Some common flu symptoms include body aches, bone aches, fever, sore throat, cough, vomiting and exhaustion.
What are some common cold symptoms?
Some common cold symptoms include runny nose or stuffy nose, scratchy throat, pain over the sinuses and face, sinus congestion and nasal congestion, increased mucus, sneezing, ear pain, can be a low-grade fever etc.
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How do colds and flu happen?
These illnesses are caused by viruses that enter our bodies. These viruses are often transmitted through the air, entering our bodies through small droplets. Viruses enter the air when a person who is already infected coughs or sneezes. Once the virus enters the air, it is breathed in by other people where it then enters their system. From there the immune system detects the foreign virus and sends signals to our body to start defending against this virus. When the immune system is working optimally, we won’t even notice that we have a virus entering our body as we will be able to fight it off before it causes any symptoms. When our immune system does not have a strong enough response the virus infects our body and we start to experience symptoms of a cold or the flu. Depending on which cells in the body that the virus infects that will depend on the type of symptoms that we begin to experience. For example, if the immune system detects that a virus has infected the cells of our nasal passage it will cause the blood vessels in that area to dilate so that more immune cells can come to the area. This results in an increased flow of mucous in the area and the symptom that many of us call a runny nose. If the immune system is unable to fight off the infection it can spread further in the body. This can lead to complications such as bronchitis or sepsis.
How long does a common cold last and how long does the flu last?
As a rule of thumb for flu-like infections or colds: It takes 3 days to show up, stays for 3 days and takes 3 days to go. Most infections are overcome after two weeks. Common colds that last for longer can indicate a weakened immune system.
How long is a common cold or flu contagious?
Colds and flu are contagious usually a day before showing symptoms and then up to 7 days after depending on the specific virus causing the illness as well as the severity of the illness.
How long do common cold and flu symptoms occur after exposure?
The time that it takes for the common cold or flu symptoms to occur after exposure can vary among people. Some people who are exposed will never show symptoms of the virus whereas others may start showing symptoms the next day. It can also take up to a week after exposure for symptoms to occur.
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The flu can last from 24 hours to a few days to even longer. If there are complications of the illness and it spreads to other parts of the body such as the lungs causing pneumonia it can last even longer. Those with weaker immune systems such as children or the elderly may take longer to fight off an infection.
The best protection against infections is a healthy immune system. This can be strengthened with a balanced diet that includes plenty of vitamins and minerals. Adding in supplements of specific vitamins and minerals that support immune function can add some extra support. These include zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C. In addition, regular exercise and fresh air can keep our bodies working optimally.
There are also different therapies that can help balance and stimulate our immune functions so that they are better at fighting off viruses. Some of these include saunas and contrast hydrotherapy. Contrast hydrotherapy involves alternating hot and cold temperature water applied to the body in some way. This includes contrast foot baths/soaks (soaking feet in hot water for 3 minutes and cold water for 1 minute for 3 cycles) or contrast showers (using hot water for 3 minutes and switching to cold water for 1 minute, 3 times and ending on cold). This same pattern can be used when applying cold and warm compresses to the throat or pads to help stimulate the immune response in these areas specifically.
The lymphatic system in our bodies is an important part of our immune system and keeping it healthy and moving properly can keep our bodies healthy. The lymphatic system helps to remove toxins and bacteria from the body. It also houses parts of the immune system and helps to move the immune cells around the body so that they can get to the area of infection. Remedies that keep the lymphatic system moving efficiently can ensure that our immune cells can do what they are supposed to, and any waste is removed.
Other natural suggestions as cold remedies to help combat a viral illness include
- Taking time to rest, stay warm and drink plenty of fluids
- Steam inhalations can help to support respiratory symptoms. Essential oils can be added to the steam inhalations but should never be ingested.
- For throat symptoms gargling with salt water or sage tea can help to decrease pain and combat infections
- Botanicals such as echinacea, elderberry, astragalus and some mushrooms can help to keep our immune system strong and prevent an infection from occurring
- Botanics such as thyme, sage, rosemary, oil of oregano etc. are antimicrobial and can help decrease the intensity of duration of symptoms while also fighting off the pathogen causing illness.
- Maintaining a healthy digestive tract and bowl with probiotics and prebiotics is an important part of regulating our immune function and may help prevent further infections.