Cold and Flu

Why won’t my doctor prescribe antibiotics for my illness?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been under the weather for a few days. This morning I blew my nose and saw greenish mucus, so I called my doctor and requested antibiotics. He refused. Why?

DEAR READER: Your doctor is correct not to prescribe antibiotics based on the color of your mucus alone. Despite what many people think, you cannot rely on the color or consistency of nasal discharge to distinguish viral from bacterial sinus infections. That's an important distinction because only bacterial infections respond to antibiotics.

What can I do to get relief from a sinus infection without antibiotics?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My doctor won't give me an antibiotic for my sinus infection. So what can I do to feel better?

DEAR READER: Most cases of sinusitis are caused by viral infections. Viruses are bulletproof to antibiotics. All antibiotics can do in this case is cause side effects. So, the best course of action for occasional sinusitis is to use self-care steps to ease symptoms while the body clears the infection.

Should I get a flu vaccine this year even if last year’s vaccine didn’t prevent me from getting the flu?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I got the flu vaccine last year and still got the flu. Should I even bother with the flu vaccine this late?

DEAR READER: Yes, you should, but don't expect perfect protection this year, any more than you should have last year. Vaccines contain fragments of three or four strains that are predicted to dominate during the coming flu season. Different strains of the virus circulate each flu season (October-May).

Why should my child get the flu shot every year?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I know my child is supposed to get a flu shot each year. But how much good does it really do, and is it safe?

DEAR READER: Every fall and winter, parents face the question: Should my child get an influenza (flu) shot? Many parents ask the same question that you do. There are several important reasons why children older than 6 months should get a flu shot every year: Influenza can be dangerous to even healthy children. You can't catch the flu from the flu shot. The flu shot is safe. The flu shot protects more than your child.

Does the high-dose flu shot protect better than a regular flu shot?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard that there is a high-dose flu shot. Does it protect better than a regular flu shot? Should I ask my doctor about it?

DEAR READER: The high-dose flu vaccine, known as Fluzone, is approved for adults ages 65 and older. It may provide better flu protection for older adults than the standard flu vaccine, which is less effective in older adults than in younger adults. Both the high-dose and standard flu vaccines target three different strains of the flu virus, selected from the most common strains predicted to be circulating that year.

Does a runny nose mean I’m getting a cold?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Why does my nose run in cold weather? Does it mean I'm getting a cold?

DEAR READER: Cold air is not only cold, but also dry. The lungs are built to deal with air that is warm and moist. So, a main function of your nose is to make the air you breathe in warm and moist. Bones in the nose (called turbinates) are covered with blood-filled membranes. The blood running through the turbinates is at body temperature: around 98.7 degrees F. The heat in the blood warms the cold air you breathe in.

Why am I still coughing three weeks after a chest cold?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I had a chest cold. I feel better, but I'm still coughing a lot. This has been going on for more than three weeks. Why am I still coughing?

DEAR READER: Most likely, you had bronchitis, an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. Bronchitis is usually caused by an infection -- viral or bacterial. The bronchial tubes are air passages connecting the lungs to the windpipe. Bronchitis usually starts with an upper respiratory illness that spreads from the nose and throat down into the airways.

Can I give my 5-year-old over-the-counter cold medicine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 5-year-old daughter has a bad cold, but her pediatrician doesn't want me to give her over-the-counter cold medication. What can I do to help her feel better?

DEAR READER: When your child is coughing and congested, it's tempting to reach for cold medicine. But as your doctor advised (based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics), you shouldn't give over-the-counter cold medicines to children younger than 6 years.

Are over-the-counter cold medications safe?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm in my 60s. Whenever I have a cold, I reach for whichever medication treats the most symptoms. My wife says that's not safe, even if the medication is available over the counter. Is she right?

DEAR READER: Your wife is correct. Clearly, you should listen to her more often. Painkillers, decongestants, antihistamines and combination remedies -- even those available over the counter -- can sometimes cause health problems. They can interact with other drugs and can interfere with existing conditions. When choosing a cold medication, read the list of active ingredients.