Cold & Flu

Cold & Flu Articles

What to do about sinusitis

If you've ever had a cold that just wouldn't go away, it may have been sinusitis — an inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, the cavities within the bones that surround the nose. The sinuses are lined with a thin membrane that produces mucus, which is normally swept along by hair cells and drains through small openings into the nasal cavity. Sinusitis (also called rhinosinusitis) starts when this drainage system becomes blocked, usually from swelling due to inflammation caused by infection or allergy. Soon, your head hurts, you feel facial pressure or pain, and thick mucus clogs your nose. The symptoms may clear on their own, but often they persist or repeatedly return. There are millions of bacteria in our noses, and most of the time, they're harmless. Even when a few creep into the sinuses, they don't cause trouble, as long as they keep draining into the nose along with mucus. But if sinus drainage is blocked, glands in the sinuses continue to produce mucus, and the resulting pool of backed-up mucus provides "the perfect culture medium." The bacteria grow out of control, causing infection, and the immune system kicks off an inflammatory response. The result: swelling, which causes headache and facial pain; mucus buildup, which produces congestion; and an influx of white blood cells to fight the bacteria, which thickens the mucus and may tint it yellow or green. Other symptoms include loss of smell or taste, cough, bad breath, fever, toothache, and fullness in the ears. Treatment begins with simple remedies, such as nasal irrigation and, if necessary, progresses to more advanced strategies, such as prescription drug therapy or surgery.Most people with acute sinusitis get better without treatment, although you can ease the symptoms and reduce the likelihood of needing stronger medicine if you keep your nasal passages clear with a few low-tech preventive techniques (see "Preventing sinusitis"). It's hard to predict who will develop chronic sinusitis, but knowing more about the two main types can help you decide how to treat your symptoms and when to see a clinician. Here are the basics: More »

Flu vaccine info for 2003

Getting an influenza (flu) shot is usually pretty routine, but as of 2003 you have a couple of new things to consider. Because of shortages in 2001 and 2002, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices had recommended early this year that providers reserve October vaccinations for people over 50, health care workers, and others at increased risk for flu complications. Everyone else was asked to wait until November. However, vaccine production was on target for the 2003-2004 flu season - some 90 million doses of vaccine will be available - so everyone can start receiving shots in October. Like other vaccines, the flu vaccine exposes the body to just enough of the influenza virus or its antigens so the immune system sets up a defense against it. A small percentage of people get mild flu-like symptoms a few hours after receiving the shot, but the most common reaction is redness, soreness, or swelling at the injection site. The virus types that cause the flu (A, B, and the less common C) can mutate to produce different strains, so if you want to be protected, you must be re-vaccinated every year. More »

Respiratory tract infection - Is it contagious?

"Stay away from me! I don't want to get sick, too." Most of us have had to utter those words to a family member, friend, or colleague who was sneezing or coughing incessantly. But how do we know how great the chances of catching someone's cold or other illness really are? A medical review published in the New England Journal of Medicine tells us when to exercise concern over eight respiratory tract infections. Bronchiolitis (Respiratory Syncytial Virus, RSV) More »