How to get care for winter illnesses

It's not just you (and your friends complaining on social media). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that this flu season is particularly bad.

But if you're miserable and coughing, you want to be sure to get the best care without greater risk for infection or spreading your illness, so before rushing off to an urgent care or emergency room, check with your primary care physician. Calling your doctor first can help you determine the severity and how to get care for your illness. Plus, it can save you unnecessary trips outside of your home or contact with crowded waiting rooms. After all, staying home as much as you are able is the best way to rest and help keep others from getting sick.  

Here are more tips to help you weather this winter's germs.

Understanding different respiratory tract infections

What most people call colds or the flu, doctors recognize as different types of respiratory tract infections (RTIs) usually caused by viruses and sometimes by bacteria.

These are further grouped into upper or lower respiratory tract infections, with upper RTIs including the common cold, tonsillitis, sinusitis, laryngitis and flu.

Lower RTIs include flu in the lower respiratory tract, bronchitis, and pneumonia.

The main way that people pass along these diseases is through the air, when someone coughs or sneezes, but you can also get them by touching something an infected person handled and then touching your own mouth, nose or eyes.

Stay home and rest when possible

In the winter, waiting rooms at hospitals and clinics get crowded, and, ironically, if you're stuck in a waiting room, chances are you could pick up even more germs, according to a study from the University of Bradford.

Matthew Birkle MD, Medical Director for TriHealth Priority Care, has seen disease spread all too often and counsels his patients to stay at home, rest and use over-the-counter medications for cold and congestion relief.

"Don't touch or share anything around those who could be ill," Birkle said. "If you think you have the flu, then call your family physician and stay at home so you don't spread it to your school or workplace."

However, if you're over 65 and have been hospitalized recently, have diabetes or have other chronic health issues, always see your doctor when you get a respiratory tract infection of any kind; don't risk waiting it out at home.

 

 

When to see your doctor

Some situations that should have you heading to the doctor when you have a respiratory issue include the following: if you're coughing up bloody mucus and phlegm (which suggests that you have pneumonia); you have a pre-existing heart, lung, liver or kidney condition; your cough has persisted for more than three weeks; you're losing weight; you have chest pain, you have a persistent high fever or there are any lumps in your neck.

However, it's always better to contact and see your primary care physician before seeking one in an urgent care clinic or emergency room.

"An established relationship with a family doctor allows for your care to be more personalized by someone who knows you and has access to all your medical history, allergies and medications," Dr. Birkle said.

When to seek immediate medical attention

Some situations do call for more urgent action, including visiting urgent care such as TriHealth Priority Care or, in the most severe cases, going to the emergency room. To help patients avoid long waits and receive care as quickly as possible, TriHealth Priority Care allows you to view current wait times and “reserve your spot” online.

As mentioned above, if you're over 65 or have a serious condition that weakens your immune system, don't hesitate to get help.

If you can't reach or get to your doctor but have severe flu or pneumonia symptoms, Dr. Birkle suggests you should go to the emergency room, especially if you are coughing up blood, are losing consciousness, can't get hydrated, have extreme body aches or have a high fever.

Preventing the flu

You can help prevent yourself and your family from getting the flu in the first place by getting a flu shot every October. Even getting one late in the flu season can be beneficial. It takes up to two weeks for the full benefits of a flu vaccination to take effect, so if you haven’t received one it’s better to act quickly to have protection for the remainder of the season. 

You can also reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the flu by frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face, avoiding crowds or others who are infected and staying home from work or school if you are experiencing symptoms.

Finding a doctor

If you've recently moved or need to find a new general practitioner, don't wait to become ill to locate a doctor.

Call the TriHealth physician finder line (513-569-5400) or visit the TriHealth website.

 

Take the quiz below to find out how much you know about winter illnesses.

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