The flu season has started unusually early this year (as predicted by the infectious disease specialist in another blog post), but there are many other viral illnesses besides flu.
When should you stop self-medicating at home and see a doctor?
This is measured less in days and more in the severity of symptoms. There have been a lot of upper respiratory complaints lately - if they start to move down to the lungs, start to sting, hurt, develop chest discomfort, then it's definitely worth seeing a doctor instead of honey tea, vitamin C, bed rest. The biggest danger of viral infections is over-infection, which can happen within 3-5 days - sooner in older people, a little later in younger people, and of course this can be controlled with medication. Either way, if you feel unwell and the symptoms become prolonged, it's always worth seeking medical advice after 3-5 days of coughing.
Coughing can have many causes, which is why it is worth starting with an internist, who will perform a differential diagnosis to check whether it is due to a respiratory infection, reflux, a side effect of medication (e.g. antihypertensive drugs), heart failure, pneumonia or asthma, to name just the most common ones.
Coughing that persists after an illness is not only seen after Covid, "residual cough" can plague a person for months. This prolonged dry cough is typically not deep, but rather characterised by throat or larynx irritation. If not treated in time, the original viral infection can become over infected with bacteria, which can only be cured with antibiotics.
Fever is a natural process, it indicates that there is inflammation in the body, which the immune system is always fighting, and this "fight" is more effective at elevated temperatures. In the last 10 years, especially in paediatrics, it has become more important not to treat a fever immediately (as long as it is more of a fever), but to let the immune system fight the virus. Bed rest, honey tea and vitamin C are recommended.
However, if there are other more serious signs of inflammation (e.g. a sore throat), it is a good idea to take an anti-inflammatory that also relieves fever (not paracetamol, which is specifically antipyretic) to prevent the inflammation from getting worse. If you don't control the temperature at all at this time, you risk the inflammation spreading and becoming harder to catch.
As the infection is mostly spread by droplet infection, the easiest way of transmission is through coughing and runny nose, so this is the best thing to watch out for when trying to keep the environment free of the disease.