Throughout the winter, sickness occurs frequently, and everywhere you look, someone seems to be ill. There are a wide range of common patient symptoms that occur during the winter months. These can range from fevers, sneezing and lethargy to the sort that accompany winter asthma, such as coughing and wheezing. Despite this wide range of illness indications, nurses should not expect to see serious cases, such as swine flu pandemics, at every turn.
The most common diseases that occur during the winter tend to be the ones that are most familiar to nurses. These illnesses include:
- Common colds
- Sore throats
- Lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis
- Upper respiratory tract infections such as sinusitis
Diseases such as the common cold, sore throats and influenza are all viral respiratory tract infections. It is best for nurses to recommend preventative care to patients because none of these viral infections can be treated with an antibiotic. Preventing germs from spreading, such as washing your hands, are fairly critical to thwarting viral diseases from spreading, as are vaccinations. However, it is always possible to recommend antiviral drugs for patients at high risk for flu complications. Antiviral drugs can shorten the duration of a patient's illness and the severity of his or her symptoms.
Norovirus is also a viral infection. Unlike the common cold, sore throats, and influenza, this illness is not a respiratory tract infection. Instead, norovirus infections are the main causes of gastroenteritis, or what is commonly known as food poisoning. Symptoms of this illness include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. While you can get food poisoning at any point throughout the year and for any number of reasons, over 80 percent of norovirus outbreaks occur during the months of November to April. Nurses should be aware that in 2012, a new strain of norovirus called GII.4 Sydney was detected. It is now the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the United States.
Lower and upper respiratory infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinusitis tend to be bacterial infections treatable with antibiotics. These infections are less common than viral infections; however, they can often occur in older and immunocompromised patients, as well as those typically healthy patients who neglect to care for themselves when they experience a milder viral infection. Ibuprofen and fluids are extremely helpful in treating these illnesses. If left untreated, these diseases can rapidly increase in severity.
Asthma is neither bacterial nor viral. Many people who do not regularly experience asthma may experience winter asthma. This is because cold air is one of the major triggers of this disease. Additionally, if you have experienced cold or flu-like symptoms recently and have taken medicine, this may have aggravated symptoms of winter asthma. This is due to pseudoephedrine, a medicine found in decongestants and multi-symptom products that tends to dry out airways. Nasal sprays, vaporizers, humidifiers and medicines without pseudoephedrine tend to work best for asthmatics.
Whether you or your patients are experiencing a standard winter illness, you should be aware of how to handle each one with ease. Remember that viruses should never be treated with antibiotics and the best thing to advise any patient, including yourself, to do is to rest.
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