The cold weather in winter always brings along a sharp increase in the number of people infected with respiratory diseases. According to the CDC, the combined force of multiple viruses including COVID-19, influenza, and RSV has caused a serious influence on national health and has led to the early arrival of the peak of respiratory diseases. It's crucial to learn to secure ourselves under such a severe situation. The following part can help you better understand these common respiratory diseases and learn how to prevent them.
Influenza, usually called seasonal flu, is probably the most frequently heard respiratory disease. Its high contagiousness makes it very common. It can be caused by several different viruses. These viruses transmit through the air when somebody sneezes or coughs, and then enter your nose and mouth directly, or stay on surfaces, waiting for contact with your hands. It's really difficult to keep away from them. Fortunately, this highly contagious disease won't be too harmful in most cases. The symptoms will be just like that of the common cold with a longer period.
Fever, cough, and muscle aches, are common symptoms of influenza. Just like having a cold, these symptoms don't require any special treatment, the best thing you should do is to have enough rest and they will naturally pass away. But for people with immune deficiency or other chronic diseases, especially seniors with COPD, the flu can be quite dangerous as the chance is high that it can lead to severe complications like pneumonia, ear or sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions including congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. So, if you do have any existing health problems, watch out for the flu and try to tackle it in an early phase.
The most efficient method to prevent any contagious disease is to cut off the transmission. You can do the following:
- Keep a distance from infected people
- Wear a mask when you need to talk to someone infected or walk into a crowd, especially during flu season. Also, wear one to protect people around you if you are the one infected. (It is highly recommended to wear disposable surgical masks instead of normal cotton masks. The latter has little effect on prevention. On contrary, it can be a perfect place for viruses to stay and proliferate )
- Avoid sharing things with infected people, especially things that directly touch your mouth like cups, bowls, and cutlery.
- Wash your hands often. Skin contact is a major way of virus transmission. Wash your hands after coming back home from outside and before eating anything.
- Use alcohol-based sanitizer. Alcohol over 75% concentration is effective in eliminating most kinds of viruses. Use it to clean your hands and commonly used items.
- Get vaccinated every year if you are in condition.
RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus)
RSV is another common virus that normally brings mild symptoms but is particularly dangerous to specific groups. Most people, infants and elderly included, only go through the same experience as the common cold and recover quickly. But in severe cases, the virus can result in bronchiolitis and pneumonia and even put your life in danger. More than 50000 children younger than five are hospitalized each year due to this virus.
People who are vulnerable to this virus usually include:
- Premature infants and infants younger than six months.
- Children with poor immune systems. (usually younger than five)
- Children with chronic lung or heart diseases.
- Children with neuromuscular disorders
In normal cases, there will be mild symptoms like cough, runny nose, no appetite, irritability, or fever.
In severe cases, symptoms may include trouble breathing, dehydration, no appetite, and constant cough. If your children have any of these, contact the doctor or your healthcare provider as soon as possible to prevent it from exacerbating.
Just like influenza, the major transmit pattern for RSV is also through sneezing, coughing, and skin contact. And the prevention is basically the same as that of influenza. Additionally, having a healthy diet for your children helps build up their immunity, which can lower the risk of severe symptoms.
COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common chronic respiratory disease that makes it difficult to breathe. It is a progressive disease, which means it typically gets worse over time. COPD is usually caused by long-term exposure to substances that irritate and damage the lungs, such as tobacco smoke and air pollution. Therefore, it is mostly seen among middle-aged or elderly people. The most common symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, coughing, and sputum production. There is no cure for COPD, but treatments like oxygen therapy can help to manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Early diagnosis of COPD is crucial and difficult because there is no distinct discomfort at the beginning. And when you do have symptoms like trouble breathing that are severe enough to catch your attention, you are already at a severe phase of the disease. So, learn to do self-checking. Your frequency of coughing, whether there is sputum, and whether you feel chest tightness or shortness of breath at times, can all indicate your health condition. If you noticed any abnormity, contact your doctor and get an examination for your lung function. The earlier you start the treatment, the better you can control it.
Prevention and treatment
As we have said, the main cause of COPD is long exposure to irritating substances. Therefore, if you smoke, quit as early as possible. And if you work in a place with much air pollution or need to go out on a polluted day, always remember to wear a mask.
Oxygen therapy is the most common and effective treatment for COPD. By providing high-concentration supplemental oxygen, it can reduce breathing difficulties, maintain your blood oxygen saturation and the normal function of your immune system, promoting your overall health condition.
Changing your lifestyle also helps alleviate COPD, which can include proper exercise, a healthy diet, and quitting all the bad habits like staying up late or drinking.
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease characterized by inflammation of the airways, which can cause difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing. It can be triggered by a variety of factors, including exposure to allergens, respiratory infections, and physical activity. Severe conditions of asthma may come in sudden and even threaten your life.
- Coughing: particularly at night or in the morning
- Wheezing: making a whistling sound when you breathe
- Being short of breath
- Feeling tightness, pain, or pressure in your chest
- Having trouble sleeping due to breathing problems
It is typically treated with medications, such as inhalers, to help control and prevent symptoms. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary. It is important for people with asthma to work with a healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan and avoid triggers that may cause symptoms
Basic prevention of respiratory diseases
Different respiratory diseases should be treated differently. But there still are some basic things we can do as daily routines to keep us guarded against most of them.
- Ventilate your room regularly and keep it clean.
- Drink enough water every day. No smoking and alcohol.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Keep regular exercise.
- Keep warm in cold weather.