Author: Dr. Sims
Hi guys Dr. Sims here. I often have patients ask me all kinds of questions about getting sick. So today we are going to talk about sickness, a cold vs the flu, and pneumonia. What to do when you experience these things and how to protect yourself. We live in a time of information right now, which is great! The downside is anyone with a phone or computer can put information out there and it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. I want to talk about this topic and empower you with information.
I apologize if this is a little longer than usual but there is a lot of important information to cover here. So, let’s get started.
There are viruses and bacteria all around, you all of the time.
Most of the time, if our immune system is functioning properly, we don’t ever notice. We touch them with our hands, and they might get washed off. Well, what if we breathe them in? If it’s thru the nose, they could get caught in the hairs in the nose and will get filtered out. You might have to blow your nose or maybe sneeze. If you breathe them into your mouth, your lungs will filter them out and cause you to sneeze or maybe cough. That’s why you should cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze but not into your hands, hopefully into a tissue or your elbow
Viruses cannot infect you thru your skin.
The skin is one of the largest defenses in your entire body. You can touch just about anything you want and it won’t matter…until you touch an opening like a cut, or your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands. That’s why hand washing is talked about so much, not because viruses and bacteria can go thru your skin but because we often touch our face without even noticing.
So let’s say the viruses get past these first lines of defense and into your body. The first things you might notice are a cough, runny nose or maybe a sore throat. All of these things are the body’s way of trying to get the rid of the harmful virus. You sneeze to get them out of your nose or lungs. They can get trapped in the mucus of your airways so you cough to push them out, then you’ll either you spit them out or swallow them. When they get into your stomach, they are destroyed by the high acidity in there.
A runny nose is another way the body traps the virus or bacteria in your mucus. Then you’ll either blow your nose or swallow the mucus and they are gone. Have you ever had a runny nose for a while and you can’t breathe thru your nose anymore, so you try to blow your nose and nothing comes out? This happens because the sinuses that are in the back of your nose are what make the mucus and they become swollen. That will limit the amount of air that can pass thru your nose.
You could also notice a sore throat. For some people, that is the first sign that something is going on. The throat gets sore because there are glands in your throat that help fight off infections and they get inflamed when they are doing their job. Did you know your tonsils are one of these glands? Yep, that’s right…your tonsils are a very important part of your immune system and when they get inflamed, it’s not because something is wrong with them, it’s because they are doing their job.
Most of the time, these defensive measures will get the job done.
If not, you might get a fever. And despite what you may have been taught…a fever is a great thing! Yep, that’s right. Did you know a fever is the body’s defense mechanism to fight off infections? Viruses and bacteria live in a very narrow temperature range. When you get a fever it’s the body’s natural response to weaken or kill the invaders. A fever can get as high as 102, 103 or even 104 in kids and that’s ok. I know fevers are not comfortable but you should never take a medication to reduce a fever. When you do that, you are allowing the infection to last longer.
So what’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
The flu is simply a more severe cold. I know what you’re thinking right now, you’re thinking, no a flu is a completely different virus. Well, the flu virus can also cause a cold. If you do the things you’re supposed to, your immune system fights it off. Typically if your body’s defenses don’t get rid of the invaders within a few days, then symptoms get more severe. When they get more severe, that’s when most people go to the doctor and they test you and find out you have a flu virus in you. If they never get to that point, you don’t get tested and you don’t even know you just fought off a flu virus. If you develop more severe symptoms from a virus, they could include a higher fever, body aches and fatigue or feeling tired. The body aches come from the waste that is being produced during the battle going on in your body. And the fatigue is because the body is trying to put all of its energy into fighting the infection.
If your body still is not successful fighting off the invader and depending on the length of time and the severity of your symptoms, you could eventually develop pneumonia. Pneumonia literally means fluid in the lungs. Like I said earlier, coughing is how the body pushes the mucus with the virus out of your lungs and airways. The longer your body is fighting the infection, the more mucus is created and that can create a problem for people with difficulty breathing, smokers, young kids and the elderly. They might not be able to get this fluid out of their lungs and it creates an infection. If it gets to this point, your only option might be medical intervention.
So what can you do at the first signs something is going on?
The truth is you probably already know what to do. But it takes a little will power.
You need to do everything you know is healthy and stop doing things you know are not healthy.
Sounds too easy right? How about some examples? First, you want to stop putting any sugar into your mouth including artificial sweeteners. That means avoid candy, soda, and chocolate to name a few. Next, no alcohol and no smoking, this includes vaping. All of these thing weaken the immune system. There’s more but I’m sure you get the idea.
After you’ve cut out all of the things that are slowing down your immune system, you can start to do some things that will assist in the healing. First, I will say there is an exhaustive list of things you can do to aid your immune system so I’m not even going to try and name them all. Some of my favorites are vitamin C, vitamin D and garlic. I have an old school chicken soup recipe from my mother that is amazing at boosting the immune system. Next you will want to drink plenty of fluids like room temperature water. Cold water can aggravate your sore throat. Hot tea can be especially soothing to a sore throat and it helps break up mucus making it easier to get out of your body.
Sleep is also important during this time so the body can focus its energy on healing.
Stress can make you sick.
That’s one of the reasons people can get sick around holidays or important events. Do you know anyone that started getting symptoms close to their wedding? It’s more common than you think and it’s due to stress. Also look at college students around finals. When you feel yourself getting symptoms you want to eliminate as much stress as possible; that’s why taking some time off of work is a good idea. Also, happiness boosts the immune system, so while you are de-stressing, maybe watch a funny movie.
Exercise has been shown to have the ability to boost the immune system as well…but when you’re having symptoms, don’t overdo it.
Next, go to your Chiropractor and get adjusted.
Getting a Chiropractic adjustment helps your body function better. When your body is fighting something, you want your body to function as optimally as possible to do its job. When your body is functioning better, your immune system is stronger. I have seen it over and over again. A family gets catches something. If not everyone in the family is getting care in my office, the ones that are, get better quicker. When my patients are not feeling well, I always tell them the same thing. Make sure they come into my office and get adjusted. You won’t get me sick and we can help you get better faster.
So what are the things you can do to prevent yourself from getting sick? Do everything I mentioned earlier to assist your immune system when it’s fighting something. All of those things support your immune system and you don’t have to wait until you start having symptoms to start doing them.
Let’s talk about some common myths around sickness.
First, cold temperatures cannot make you sick. It’s just not true. In order to explain it, I want to address another myth that gets perpetuated in the media, at home, and even by most health care professionals. Ready? There is no such thing as the flu season. I need this to settle in because some of you have been told this your entire lives. But…it’s just not true.
Let me explain…the time of year that is “flu season” is typically during the fall and winter. Have you ever asked yourself why? Well, it’s not that viruses hibernate during the summer. In fact, the viruses are around us all year round. It’s due to a couple of reasons. First, when it’s cold outside, we tend to keep the doors and windows closed. We don’t want that cold air in but, at the same time, the air in here can’t get out. Fresh air is great for us and during cold weather we just don’t get as much of it.
Secondly, sunshine on our skin helps the body produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is very important for our immune system. When it’s cold out, we typically want to keep our skin covered as much as possible. So, we get less sun…and the body produces less vitamin D. To top it all off, we have a lot of holidays in the wintertime. What can come with holidays? Poor diets and stress.
Combine this together and we have the perfect storm for weakening our immune system and increasing the chances of getting sick.
So, the cold doesn’t make us sick and there is no season for sickness but there is a time of year that we need to take extra steps to boost our immune system to help keep us protected.
What if you are someone that gets a cold frequently?
Well, you need to strengthen your immune system but it doesn’t happen overnight. And depending on how weak your immune system has become, it could take some time.
Look…everyone needs to do what they feel is right but I will say every time you take a medication to try and fight off the symptoms of getting a cold, you are making it harder and harder on your immune system to do its job…and the weaker your immune system becomes. Think about it, we talked about how a runny nose or a cough is your immune system’s way of getting a virus or bacteria out of your body. Let’s say you take a decongestant to stop these symptoms, the body can’t do its job and this invader is allowed to survive in your body longer.
You always need to remember that your symptoms are not the problem. The problem is there is a virus or bacteria in your body and the symptoms are the body’s way of adapting to that problem. Also, when you allow your immune system to do its job, the more exposed to viruses and bacteria you are, the stronger your immune system can become. This is how true immunity works. When you are exposed to something, if it is something your body has never seen before, you will get symptoms. If you allow your body to do its job and adapt, it will fight off the same invader faster in the future.
I used a very important word, it is “adapt”.
Your body is constantly adapting to its environment. Your symptoms are the body’s adaptive response. True sickness only occurs when your body is unable to adapt.
Again, everyone needs to do what they feel is right, and this is a sensitive topic but if I don’t tell you the truth, I’m not doing my job. The stronger you make your immune system; the more easily it can adapt and fight off disease. When it gets strong enough, you will not need a flu shot because your body will know what to do. It will recognize the flu virus and fight it off and the symptoms will never get severe.
One final thought, if your symptoms are not extremely severe, you want to avoid antibiotics. Antibiotics are an amazing life-saving medication but there are definite negative side effects. Not possible side effects, side effects that are guaranteed. They weaken your immune system and you are more likely to get sick again in the near future because of them. Somehow antibiotics have become the go-to for just about everything but they should only be used to save your life and not just because you’re uncomfortable.
We need to learn to trust our bodies. Most of us have been taught that we were born into a hostile environment and our bodies can’t possibly survive without intervention. Except with very rare exceptions, this is not true. Our body will absolutely take care of us as long as we take care of it. The only reason I’m writing this is to empower you with information so you can make better choices for you and your family.