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Respiratory Infections

by Dr. Raj Rakhra

With the change of weather, respiratory illnesses associated with virus infection increases. These respiratory disorders are common cold, pharyngitis, laryngitis, tracheitis, bronchitis and the Pneumonia group of viruses that may cause any or all of these above illnesses. The acute viral respiratory illnesses are self limited and usually followed by a complete recovery.

Common Cold can be caused by a variety of viruses that are capable of infecting the upper respiratory tract. We are all constantly exposed to many of these viruses, but the majority of us only experience the discomfort of a cold once or twice a year. This implies that a decrease in resistance is the major factor in catching a cold.

In general, the individual with a cold will experience a general malaise, fever, headache, and upper respiratory tract congestion. Initially, there is usually watery nasal discharge, sneezing, followed by thicker secretions containing mucous, white blood cells and dead organisms. The throat may be red, dry and sore. Occasionally, mild allergies may be the underlying factor, decreasing resistance and allowing the virus to infect the upper respiratory tract. Allergies can be differentiated from the common cold as there is no fever in allergies and there is no sign of infection.

Maintaining a healthy immune system is the prime way of protecting against an excessive number of colds. Nutrition plays a big part in improving the immune system. Another important factor in reduced resistance that allows a virus to infect, is stress, whether it is physical, emotional or mental. During the stress response, some compounds are released by the adrenal glands that cause the thymus gland to shrink and reduce its activity. Many nutritional factors have been shown to prevent this effect of stress on the thymus, our major gland of immunity. Vitamin A, C beta-carotene, small doses of zinc and other antioxidants prevent stress and free radical induced damage. Other contributing factors to consider besides nutritional deficiency and stress are abuse of alcohol, tobacco, consumption of prescribed or non prescribed drugs and recreational drugs.

Sinus Infection - Again, the most common predisposing factor in acute bacterial sinusitis is viral upper respiratory tract infections i.e. common cold, allergies and other factors that induce swelling and fluid retention of the mucous membranes of the sinus, that may cause blockage of drainage, which then facilitates the bacterial overgrowth in the area, causing infection. In chronic sinusitis, an allergic background is commonly present. In maxillary sinusitis, the frequent cause is usually an underlying dental infection. The use of antihistamines may give temporary relief, however, their prolonged use is not recommended, as rebound or reflex reaction with continual administration may occur.

In acute sinusitis, the treatment goal is to establish drainage and clear up the acute bacterial infection. An allopathic doctor may prescribe antibiotic and antihistamines as their first choice of medicine. The Naturopathic physician may take a different approach. Some treatments may include; local application of heat, volatile oils and or homeopathic remedies with antibacterial properties, to clear the sinuses and support the immune system. Getting plenty of rest, drinking large amounts of fluids, such as vegetable juice, herb teas and soups are all helpful. He or she should limit simple sugar consumption, and eliminate common allergens such as milk products, wheat, corn, citrus, peanuts and fried foods.

Other supplements that are useful are vitamin C, bioflavonoid, vitamin A, beta-carotene, zinc lozenges and thymus extract. Hydrastis canadensis, bromelain and proteolytic enzymes are quite helpful as well.

Bronchitis - Bronchitis, again, is often a complication of the common cold. Like many respiratory tract infections, bronchitis is more likely to develop in smokers, because smoking impairs the ability of the respiratory tract's lining to clear out germs. Bronchitis shows up as a persistent cough, usually with thick, colored phlegm, but without a fever, following a common cold.

Pneumonia - Bronchitis and Pneumonia are usually preceded by upper respiratory infections. Pneumonia is a serious infection of the lungs that can be caused by any of a number of different infectious agents including viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and mycoplasma. The infection causes tiny air sacs in the lungs to be inflamed and filled with mucous and other fluids. The fluid inhibits oxygen from reaching the blood. Lobar pneumonia affects only a section of the lungs or lobe of one lung. Bronchial pneumonia affects portions of both lungs. Although the symptoms may vary in intensity, they usually include fever, chills, cough, bloody sputum, muscle aches, fatigue, sore throat, enlarged lymph glands in the neck, cyanosis (bluish skin or nails), pain in the chest and rapid and difficult breathing. X-rays show infiltration of fluid and lymph in the lungs.

Pneumonia typically follows after upper respiratory infection such as cold, influenza or measles. Young children under the age of one and elderly people over the age of sixty five are most susceptible. Weakened immune system, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV infection, seizure or stroke, alcoholism, smoking, kidney failure, sickle cell disorders, malnutrition, exposure to chemical irritants are some of the factors that increase the chance of pneumonia.

Bacterial pneumonia can be very dangerous and can come on gradually or suddenly and usually is a complication of some other health problem such as respiratory disease, weakened immune system or viral infection. Streptococcus pneumonia is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia.

Symptoms usually are shaking, chills and high fever. The cough is dry at first and then rust colored sputum is produced and breathing becomes rapid and difficult or labored. See your health care provider immediately.

Influenza - Influenza is better known as flu and is a highly contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory system. Influenza lasts longer, usually about two weeks and has different symptoms (severe headaches and aching muscles, persistent dry cough and overwhelming fatigue that is much more severe to people who are frail, because of age or other medical condition. Influenza can be fatal. There are two types of influenza virus, type A and type B, that causes acute infection of the throat, nose, bronchial tubes, lungs and middle ear. The virus enters the body through the mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, or mouth. Because the virus can spread through coughing and sneezing, influenza epidemics are very common. The symptoms of influenza begin much like those of the common cold; body ache, fatigue, headache, hot and cold sweats, fever, chills, dry throat, cough, nausea, and vomiting develop. Usually a person with flu is weak and uncomfortable and does not feel like eating or doing anything. A cold can last around eight to ten days on average, but flu can last even longer, up to twelve days or more, followed by residual cough and fatigue, adding another week.

Start with plenty of rest; consume plenty of fluids, fresh juices, herbal teas and soups. Do not take zinc with citrus fruits or juices. Do not expose yourself to excessive cold weather, dress reasonably warm. Mild fever is one of the body's major defense mechanisms against the flu. The flu can cause serious complications for young children, the elderly and those with a history of abuse of alcohol, smoking and a week immune system. Since flu viruses are often transmitted by hands, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, keep them away from your eyes, nose and mouth. If you sneeze, use disposable tissues. Please change your toothbrush after any virus infection. Antibiotics are useless against viruses, but are important in secondary bacterial infections and seeing your health care provider is important.

Dr. Rakhra is a Naturopathic Physician, serving Calgary for more than twenty years and practicing Complementary Medicine since 1964. He is a Member of Alberta Association of Naturopathic Doctors. Dr. Rakhra's clinic is located at 121 - 14 Street North West in Calgary, Alberta. You can reach his office at 403-270-7033. Visit his website at: www.aynh.com.

Read more articles by Dr. Rakhra Here.

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