What not to do when you have the flu

Vuyo Mkize

It’s the season of coughs and snot, sniffs and body aches – flu; a virus we are all bound to catch if unlucky and unprepared at least at some point of the year.

Not only do these symptoms wreck pain and havoc for the sufferers, but will most likely affect those around them such as family and co-workers.

And more and more people are increasingly shunning a visit to the GP in favour for self medication.

Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – a local pharmaceutical company – said despite negative connotations generally associated with the idea of self-medication, it was fast becoming the most popular method of self-care for the majority of South Africans.

With over 80% of pharmacists from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban participating in a poll they had conducted recently confirming a significant drop in patients supplying a doctor’s script compared to previous years.

“Confronted with the choice of paying for a doctor’s consultation fee or simply walking into a pharmacy and asking for medication they believe would make them better, most are opting for the latter.

“In the past, at the first sign of a cold, people made a turn at the doctor to stop a cold in its tracks, but in recent years we have seen a steady, but growing increase in OTC colds and flu product sales,” Jennings said.

According to the National Institute of Communicable Disease’s (NICD) Professor Cheryl Cohen,

“The timing of the influenza season varies from year to year, influenza virus circulation occurs mainly during the winter months of May to August, but may start as early as April, and as late as July. Surveillance over the past 33 showed an average onset of week 22 (last week of May/first week of June). The peak of the season on average has been week 27 (first week of July)”.

Be that as it may – those who haven’t had their flu vaccine this season may already be feeling the dreaded pinch of colds and flu.

And for Jennings, it was crucial – especially for those self-medicating during their illness – to know a few do’s and don’ts in terms of medicine interactions.

“Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are stimulants and should be avoided if you suffer from diabetes, heart disease, thyroid disease or glaucoma. These products interfere with blood pressure medications and can cause erratic heart palpitations and raise your blood pressure, which can be extremely dangerous when you suffer from these conditions,” she began.

“Stimulants are often used in cold and flu medication because of their nasal decongestive properties but have a major adverse effect on patients suffering from high blood pressure,” Jennings added.

“If you consider that almost three in 10 adults in SA – 6.3 million people – have high blood pressure, they could be mixing a potentially dangerous cocktail when taking the wrong cold and flu remedies, so be sure to read the label first of every OTC medication or speak to a pharmacist before making the purchase,” she advised

For those with sensitive stomachs, Jennings suggested opting for an over-the-counter cold and flu drug that didn’t contain aspirin.

“Aspirin is known to irritate the stomach lining. Most cold and flu medications contain a general pain reliever for aches and pains associated with the condition, so rather choose a remedy which contains paracetamol instead.

“Diabetics always need to look for alcohol- and sugar-free cold and flu medications, containing artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sorbitol which are generally considered to be safe for patients with diabetes.”

Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen should also be avoided and diabetics are advised to always monitor their blood glucose levels more closely when taking cold and flu medication or any OTC medication for that matter.

“Saline nasal sprays and antihistamines are also safe options to relieve nasal congestion and for those who prefer herbal remedies rather steer clear of Echinacea if you are on methotrexate for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis or corticosteroids for any reason,” she added.

Additionally, Jennings advised, “Efferflu C is a widely used OTC cold and flu drug and is recommended by doctors and pharmacists, and is safe in patients suffering from heart disease, asthma, stomach ulcers and diabetes.

“However if you take medication for any chronic ailment, always check in with your doctor if your cold symptoms last longer than 10 days or if you develop a fever of over 38°C, a sinus headache, earache, thick green nasal discharge or phlegm, or a cough that doesn’t go away after your other cold symptoms subside.”

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