Is it Cold or Flu? (And What to Do)

How to tell the difference, and what to do about it

Is it Cold or Flu? (And What to Do)

My workdays at the clinic have been pretty full of mucus lately. Just about everyone who walks through the door is coughing or sneezing or clutching a sore throat or some variation of the above. And I’ve noticed, as always, a whole lot of confusion when it comes to colds and the flu.

What To Feed Your Kids When They Have The Flu

So what’s the difference between a cold and the flu? How do you know what you, or your kids, have? And...does it really matter, anyway?

Well, in fact it does matter. Because with a cold, you can (and should) battle it out on your own. For a little while, anyway. If your symptoms worsen or persist, you should come in. (As a guideline, a cold should run its course in about 7-10 days.) The flu, however, is different, and if you come in quickly, we may be able to prescribe an antiviral medication that can help your immune system.

Okay, so to help clear things up, I’ve created a handy little chart. Each symptom on the left will manifest differently, whether it’s a cold or the flu. Here’s how things break down:

Make sense?

Basically, the flu is an entirely different animal than a cold. While we all get colds from time to time, and it kind of stinks but you muddle through...the flu YOU DO NOT WANT. It will knock you on your ass. Many adults have never actually had the flu, so they don’t know just how bad it can be. But once you do get know.

How You Can Prevent Colds and The Flu In The First Place

So how about treatment? Whether it’s a cold or the flu, there are lots of home remedies that will help ease your symptoms while you’re immune system is going to war. From zinc to vitamin C to chicken soup, read all my recommendations here.

Note I have not mentioned anything about antibiotics. That’s because both the flu and the common cold are caused by VIRUSES. And viruses do not respond to antibiotics. Now, sometimes, either one of these viruses can lead to a secondary bacterial infection. Meaning: bacteria take advantage of the fact that your immune system is busy fighting the virus, so the bacteria sets up camp in a specific body part. Like your chest, for example (this is pneumonia) or your ears (middle ear infection).

Signs you may have a secondary bacterial infection: after you’ve been sick with a virus for a little while, instead of gradually getting better, you suddenly take a turn for the worse. You spike a fever. You start getting very specific symptoms, like an earache, or one-sided sinus pressure. This is when you go see your doctor. Also, if you've got a persistent sore throat and fever only (none of the other cold/flu symptoms) and it's like razor blades when you try to swallow—you should see your doc to rule out that lovely thing known as Strep Throat. Which is a bacterial infection, and does require antibiotics.

So how about you—have you ever had the flu? Any home remedies you swear by?

Stay healthy, everyone.


Healthy Distractions In Difficult Times

It's healthy to take time for yourself. Here's how.

Healthy Distractions In Difficult Times

I admit to needing a little distraction right now, in the aftermath of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. At the same time, I admit to feeling somewhat guilty about entertaining that need. There are people out there who are suffering through a living nightmare, and I’m looking to soothe my own nerves? How self-absorbed. How trivial. Right?

But, the truth is, we all need to move forward. We all need to stay functional, for our own mental health, and for the health of our families.

It’s not a healthy thing to lock onto continuous news feeds. It’s not healthy to focus exclusively on one topic, no matter how consuming and important that topic may be.

It is healthy to take time for yourself, to be with your family, and yes, to choose a few healthy distractions.

Here are some suggestions:

Read a book

Lose yourself—for a little while, anyway—in something lovely. Something absorbing. Something delightful. Try The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Emma by Jane Austen. On The Island by Tracy Garvis Graves (this one's next up on my personal TBR list).

Cuddle up for movie night

Make a big bowl popcorn. (Yes, I said popcorn. With butter. Your health can stand indulgences now and then. It's not all-quinoa-all-the-time with me.) Snuggle on the couch for family movie night, maybe for a holiday favourite, or maybe something completely off season (why not? There are no rules). Or, get out of the house and go to the theatre. But I would suggest, perhaps, that you go see something happy, something funny, or something inspiring. Maybe steer clear of the violent or the harrowing for the time being.

Connect with friends

And I mean in real life, if possible. Meet a girlfriend for coffee, go to your book club meeting (I went to mine last night, and it was wonderfully therapeutic), invite a good friend over for a glass of wine.

Enjoy some family time

The holidays are, of course, a perfect time for that. Instead of packing all kinds of festive activities into your schedule, clear the calendar and keep it simple. Make some Christmas crafts. Play outside. Build a snowman. Pull out your rolling pin and bake some cookies together. (Yes, I said cookies. See above comment re: quinoa.)


Okay, here’s where I put the 'health' back in 'healthy distractions,' I suppose. Work up a good old-fashioned sweat. Breathe through a yoga flow. Go for a run. Go skating. Or, if you’re here on the west coast, go for a family bike ride. (Er, sorry about that one. But, hey, if I have to miss all the fun award galas and movie premieres and Winterlude and everything by being out on the Pacific fringe, I'm going to take a few perks.)

Do something charitable

There is a lot of good to be gained by doing good things for others. Volunteering, helping, and giving--these acts are well-documented to improve happiness. And I’m talking about the happiness of the giver, even more so than the receiver. At this time of year there are plenty of ways to give and help. Here's one.

So how about you? Do you have any ideas for healthy distractions?

Happy holidays, everyone.





Re-Stock Your Toolbox for Handling Holiday Stress

Help is here. So you don't go all postal this season.

Re-Stock Your Toolbox for Handling Holiday Stress

It's ironic, isn't it? A season that's meant to be a happy, wonderful time of celebration so often ends up being stress central. But do the holidays have to be synonymous with stress? Not if you take steps to cope.

Here are my suggestions:

Let go of the need to be perfect

Our expectations can get a little ridiculous this time of year. You do not need to channel Martha. You do not need to throw the perfect party, complete with handmade decorations and home-canned preserves for every guest...a person can only do so much. Make sure you know your true priorities, and focus on those. Quality time with loved-ones is probably a healthier goal than hand-crocheted doilies. Just saying.

Give yourself "Me Time"

Carve out some quiet time for yourself, no matter how difficult this might seem. If necessary, sneak away to do it. It doesn't have to be an entire day of indulgence—sometimes just a 10-minute breather will do it. (Although the indulgence day sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?) Don't feel guilty about making time for yourself! You are no good to anyone else if you are totally burned out.

Have a strategy for healthy eating

Temptation is all over the place this season. Making good choices will help your energy level, your digestion, your sleep...and will also help you avoid the particular stress that occurs when struggling to zip up your pants. Of course, I also think you need to enjoy yourself. Read YMC dietitian Sarah Remmer’s post on indulgences. One of my personal strategies: be a food snob. Be picky, and only eat the truly superb (there’s no shortage of that during the holidays!). Don't waste calories on something that's just ho-hum.


Most people recognize that exercise is a big help with stress. But finding the time for said exercise? A cause of stress. Hm. Conundrum. My advice: don’t sweat it if you can't find the time for long workouts right now. Just squeeze little bits in here and there. My personal preference is to do a little yoga—even 5 or 10 minutes of stretching--it's good for body and soul.

Just say no

Overcommitment will lead straight to overwhelm. Tune in to what you really need to do, and cut the fat on everything else. A lot of holiday stress is caused by taking on way too much. Most of us have pretty full plates to begin with. Throw a bunch of extra stuff in there...just where is that extra time supposed to come from, pray tell? Instead: Choose sanity. Say no. (And if you feel guilty, just tell people you’re following doctor’s advice. *winks*)

Re-frame the holidays

A quantum shift in perspective might be just what you need. Once upon a time, winter was a time of darkness, a time of seeking warmth and comfort and gathering indoors...not a time of nonstop cheer. It might help to respect the season, the darkness, and lower your expectations accordingly. Read Dr. Andrew Weil's wonderful post on this aspect of our cultural history.  


Quick and easy (thus fitting nicely into a packed schedule), breathing exercises are a wonderful stress-reliever. Here's my primer on that.

Listen to music

And no, not holiday tunes. I love Christmas music, make no mistake, but sometimes you need to take a break from the nonstop jingle-belling. Read this to see why music is medicine.

Shop online

I loathe Christmas shopping at the mall. The parking, the checkout lineups—and don't even get me started on the food court. I avoid it at all costs. But I'm no Scrooge. I love to shop, and I love giving Christmas presents. The internet, and Canada Post, offer the perfect solution. Read this to get you started

Protect your sleep

A person needs to rest; there's no way you can get through all the holiday festivities without it. Insufficient sleep makes you grumpy, irritable, and...wait for it: fat. (it's true: lack of sleep increases your chances of becoming overweight). Do whatever it takes to keep a regular sleep schedule. Your body, and brain, will thank you.