Cold and flu season is upon us. And every year, it brings with it the same concerns and questions about prevention and treatment. To help get you through the next few months, we talked with Dr. Keri Peterson, a primary care physician with a private practice on the Upper East Side, for prevention and wellness tips. "You can't educate enough," says Peterson, who's seen the number of patients with respiratory infections in her office increase sevenfold in the past few weeks.
Be smart about the spread of germs
"Pretend there's a glass table at your neck and your hands can't go above your neck because they'll hit the table. I think it's a good visual. And you want to make sure you wash your hands long enough -- use soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds -- the time it takes you to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice. Many people don't wash them sufficiently to remove germs. You also want to cough into your elbow rather than your hands."
Approach Enterovirus D68 the same way
"For the vast majority of people, Enterovirus D68 is going to be very similar to the common cold. But it's especially worrisome for kids with asthma. It's all the same preventative measures -- washing hands, avoiding touching your face. Clean surfaces regularly. I'm a big fan of disinfectant wipes. "
Get your flu shot
"You should start getting it now if you haven't already because the flu's on its way. It takes two weeks for the flu shot to kick in, so now's the time to get it. And you do need it every year -- there are different strains that become dominant every year, so the flu shot is developed to fight off more recent flu invaders."
Stock up on Cold-EEZE
"[If you have a cold] the first thing you should do is get zinc lozenges, like Cold-EEZE -- that will shorten the duration of the cold by half. Suck on that for the next few days. That's the main thing that's going to shorten the duration of the cold. Other than that, the only thing that's going to shorten the cold is rest, eat healthily and drink lots of fluid."
Relieve other cold symptoms
"If you have congestion, use a saline spray. It really opens up the nasal passage. For a sore throat, you can take ibuprofen or do salt water gargles. For a dry cough, you'd want to use a suppressant to stop the cough, like dextromethorphan. For a wet cough, an expectorant will help clear the airway and ease the cough."
Know when to see a doctor
"The key thing is being properly diagnosed with the cold vs. the flu. The difference between the cold and flu is the flu hits you like a truck, it comes on more quickly with high fevers, headaches, body aches, congestion and cough all at once. If it's the flu, you need to initiate treatment quickly. A cold is more insidious -- it comes on gradually, with a sore throat and congestion. Fever and aches are very rare. If it's the common cold, you don't need to see a physician. But if you're having symptoms for more than two weeks and your sinuses are becoming really painful, you could get a secondary infection. If you have shortness of breath and severe sinuses, then I would seek treatment."