Dr. David Foley, Consultant in Emergency Medicine and Medical Director of Affidea ExpressCare Minor Injuries & Illnesses Walk-In Clinic in Tallaght in Dublin, offers advice on early diagnosis and expert treatment as the basis for minor injury management. ExpressCare in Cork is also open from 10am – 10pm, 365 days a year.
As we ring in the New Year and all those resolutions we try so hard to keep, we also have to cope with the increase in illnesses and infections that bedevil us at this time of year. Just as we prepare for the summer months with our wardrobes and sun lotions, so too must we plan a little to help us get through the next couple of months, to keep ourselves as safe and healthy as possible.
Prevention is key.
For those in the high-risk groups, such as the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, the flu jab is a must. Never underestimate just how dangerous this infection can be. Every year, people die from the flu – even those who are healthy. Healthcare workers have a particular responsibility to keep themselves, their families and patients safe by getting the flu immunisation.
The basics always ring true – wash your hands and try to avoid sneezing into the open air. Chest infections are spread by the tiny droplets in the air, which we pass to each other by close contact. Good hand hygiene helps reduce transmission rates, so wash your hands often and thoroughly.
Try to avoid touching your eyes or mouth, and keep your distance from those who are coughing and sneezing.
The lifestyle basics of a healthy diet, avoidance of alcohol and reduction in stressors will all help to keep our immune system in tip-top condition to fight off any bugs.
What to do if you do get an infection?
Trying to tell the difference between a mild viral illness and a bacterial pneumonia is tricky, even for doctors and the medical profession who don’t help as we often use the terms bronchitis, chest infection, pleurisy and pneumonia interchangeably.
In simple terms, it’s best to divide the infections into upper and lower respiratory infections.
- Upper respiratory infections or URTIs are usually caused by a virus and the symptoms include sore throat, runny nose, aches and pains and fever. URTIs resolve in several days and the mainstay of treatment is to minimise the symptoms with paracetamol or ibuprofen until the viral infection has been eradicated by your immune system.
- Lower respiratory chest infections are usually caused by bacteria and those suffering will complain of cough, fevers, sweats, lack of appetite and feeling generally unwell. These infections can be serious, especially in vulnerable populations, and will need symptom control and antibiotics. The challenge for those suffering and doctors is to assess which group their symptoms belong to and if antibiotics are appropriate.
Most winter infections are viral in origin and innocuous, but there are some red flag symptoms which should cause patients to seek medical advice.
Infectious symptoms with SHORTNESS OF BREATH, CHEST PAIN, CONFUSION OR VOMITING would indicate more serious illness and require review by a doctor.