By Sidney F. Pucan, M.D.
Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) are one of the most common acute illnesses in the world and it is described as inflammations affecting the sinuses, nose, throat, airways and lungs. Symptoms include blocked or runny nose, cough, sore throat, dysphagia and fever. URTIs can develop into influenza, commonly called as ‘flu’ or into pharyngitis or epiglotitis in severe cases.
Colds can be highly infectious, especially in a relatively enclosed environment like a ship, so to stop the spread of the infection, a few basic precautions should be taken if you have a cold:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink lots of water to keep hydrated especially if suffering a runny nose or build-up of catarrh in the throat. This also helps to loosen any mucus and makes it easier to cough up.
- Drink a hot lemon drink with honey to help sooth a hacking cough.
- Gargle with hot salty water if suffering a sore throat.
- Inhale the steam from hot water to help clear sinuses (eucalyptus or menthol oil could be added too).
- Use extra pillows to keep your head raised up while sleeping to make breathing easier.
- Use painkillers to help bring down a fever, ease a sore throat, headache or muscle pain.
When blowing your nose use disposable tissues and throw them away after each use to avoid re-infecting yourself and keep your hands clean so that you do not spread your germs onto door handles or other surfaces which colleagues may touch and pick up your germs.
Most URTIs should get better without specialist treatment within 1 to 2 weeks but if the symptoms persists, seek medical advice.
Generally, antibiotics are only prescribed these days if the symptoms are severe, but this will only be required in serious cases or where a URTI may cause additional complications if a person already has a pre-existing respiratory issue such as asthma, hay fever, or emphysema.