Watchful Waiting: Best Bet for Winter Illnesses
You might be too sick for school or work but that doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to the doctor is in order. The majority of cool weather upper respiratory illnesses—like colds, flu, bronchitis and sinusitis—are caused by viral infections. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections and do not speed recovery from a virus.
Many patients aren’t aware of the distinction and are frustrated when physicians do not prescribe antibiotics for viruses.
“The misuse of antibiotics was pervasive for decades and it’s challenging to convince patients that these medications can be harmful when they’re prescribed for infections that aren’t caused by bacteria,” says Jennifer Caudle, DO, an assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. “As an osteopathic physician, it’s my job to help patients understand when they need to come into the office because sometimes they are better off staying in bed than seeing me.”
Focusing on preventive care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to consider how environmental and lifestyle factors impact your health. They are trained to listen and partner with you to help you not only get healthy, but stay well.
When to See Your Doctor
While watchful waiting is recommended for patients who are otherwise healthy, Dr. Caudle notes anyone meeting the following criteria should be evaluated by a physician early in the illness.
See your doctor quickly if:
- You have a weakened immune system.
- You have underlying medical problems such as heart or lung problems.
- You have been hospitalized with respiratory problems in the past.
- Your symptoms do not improve after 7-10 days.
- Your symptoms include fever higher than 100.5 degrees, severe facial pain, inability to swallow or persistent vomiting.
Many patients can wait a week before visiting their physician if the illness is manageable.
“Most viral infections will improve on their own within seven days and there’s really no need to come in if you’re generally healthy and able to control the symptoms,” Dr. Caudle explains. “Just don’t let it go on for more than 10 days if there is no improvement.”
4 Tips to Staying Healthy
You can take precautionary measures to help avoid illness this cold and flu season by stopping the spread of disease-causing bacteria. Jennie Kwon, DO, a board-certified osteopathic internal medicine physician and senior clinical research fellow in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, suggests the following tips:
- Stay current on vaccinations, including the influenza vaccination and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination recommendations.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. An alcohol-based sanitizer can be used if hands are not visibly dirty.
- Stay home when you are ill to avoid spreading the infection to others.
- Keep a strong immune system with a balance of exercise, healthy eating and sleep.