The truth about colds, flu and allergies

The common cold affects 62 million people in the U.S. annually and accounts for 75 to 100 million physician visits per year. These visits cost, conservatively, about $7.7 billion a year.

by Dr. Paul Stallone — 

The phrase “It is just a cold,” is often the response of someone experiencing the symptoms, but sometimes a cold can be much more serious. The common cold affects 62 million people in the U.S. annually and accounts for 75 to 100 million physician visits per year. These physician visits cost, conservatively, about $7.7 billion per year, and usually result in an antibiotic prescription about one-third of the time, which does not do anything for a cold virus.

On average in the U.S., an adult will catch a cold two to four times a year. Children are affected the most by colds, experiencing between six and 12 per year. In the U.S., it is estimated that 22 to 190 million school days are lost annually due to colds.  As a result, 126 million workdays are missed by parents.

Some people may confuse a cold with allergies or the flu. All three have similar symptoms but require different treatment, so it is important to know which one you are experiencing. A cold will typically begin about one to three days after contracting the virus, with the infection causing abrupt swelling and excessive mucus in the respiratory tract, which then results in a sore throat, followed by these symptoms.

Flu, cold and allergy symptoms

 General flu symptoms

  • Fever above 100° F
  • Muscle aches and soreness
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Fatigue


General cold symptoms

  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Nasal drainage (clear and watery)
  • Nasal congestion
  • Mild coughing


General allergy symptoms

  • Swelling of nasal passages
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Runny, itchy, red eyes


The nasal drainage from a cold will usually start off watery, and may become darker and thicker, but will not require the use of antibiotics. You are contagious during the first three days, so be extra vigilant. A cold may worsen other lung problems or asthma, making it seem more severe.

If you are experiencing a fever higher than 100° F and severe symptoms, you may have the flu. The flu is an acute respiratory infection that can be caused by a variety of influenza viruses. If symptoms last more than a few weeks, allergies may be the culprit, which are caused by an overactive immune system.

As mentioned above, antibiotics are often prescribed for a cold but will do nothing to help it. A cold results from a virus, not bacteria; antibiotics are intended for bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics will not keep others from getting sick, nor aid your recovery. Do not pressure your physician into giving you or a family member a prescription for antibiotics. This may do nothing but harm.

A good treatment for a cold is to simply let it run its course. The more than 200 viruses capable of causing a cold are constantly changing, and it may not be a bad idea to let your immune system familiarize itself with them to prevent future infection.

Vitamins are extremely important when it comes to fighting off an infection, and more importantly, preventing infection in the first place. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is one of the best because it boosts the immune system, aids in wound healing and is an excellent antioxidant. It has many other health benefits and should be taken daily. Discuss with your physician the appropriate dosage for oral use.

Also try natural herbs like echinacea, which increases levels of properdin, a chemical that activates part of the immune system responsible for increasing defense mechanisms against bacterial and viral assaults. Echinacea cleanses the blood, assists the lymphatic system and is antibacterial.

Ginger is a great pain reliever, antioxidant, antiseptic and antiviral that can prevent colds and inflammation of mucus membranes. Ginger may reduce a fever while offering a mild sedative effect, and it is great for encouraging rest. Incorporate garlic into your diet before or during a cold for great immune system support with antibacterial and antifungal properties. Garlic contains allicin, a potent, natural antibiotic.

Goldenseal is antiseptic and stimulates the immune system. Berberine, found in goldenseal, activates special white blood cells that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Peppermint reduces fever and headaches, while soothing blocked sinuses and acting as a natural decongestant. Zinc may shorten the duration of a cold by one-half. With regular use, zinc may prevent colds altogether. Discuss with your physician the proper amounts of the above supplements for the correct dosage.

Most importantly: The best way to prevent a cold is to wash your hands and wash them often. You do not need to be in the same room to catch someone else’s infection; a cold virus can live on surfaces for about three hours.

Besides washing your hands, taking your vitamins and getting rest, remember to drink plenty of water, which is essential during any period of sickness, as the body uses water to flush out toxins and waste. The last thing you want is to become dehydrated during a cold. Nasal irrigation can also help with cold symptoms because this process will flush out any bacteria, virus or pollutant from the nasal passages. Try a simple saline solution and a Neti pot for nasal relief. Cold viruses thrive in dry conditions and will not last long with a clean humidifier running in your home. Adding a humidifier can bring relief as well.

The typical cold will last about seven to 10 days, and with some herbal and vitamin help, it may only last five to six days. For some people, however, those five to six days out of commission are a hardship. A high-dose vitamin C intravenous (IV) therapy may stop a cold in its tracks. These IVs are available only through a physician’s office, allowing for precise customization. Many patients feel completely back to normal one day after receiving an IV.

Although rare, there can be serious complications associated with colds, so if your symptoms feel severe or unlike past colds, you should speak with your physician. He or she can make excellent suggestions for your specific symptoms, give you a correct diagnosis and be a great resource for advice on natural cold treatments. A cold does not have to be a chronic occurrence in your life; taking good care of yourself and having a healthy lifestyle, before you get sick, can prevent most illnesses.


Paul Stallone, N.M.D., founded the Arizona Integrative Medical Center, located at 8144 E. Cactus Road, Ste. 820, Scottsdale, Ariz. He combines natural, alternative and conventional treatments to best fit each individual patient’s needs. or 480-214-3922.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 30, Number 2, April/May 2011.


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