FB Chat Exclusive: The ‘DivaMD’ Answers Your Cold & Flu Questions

divamd2There’s nothing worse than a cold or the flu than having a cold or flu during the summer! But have no fear, BlackDoctor.org has all the information you need to get well and stay well! Dr. Shanicka Williams, “The DivaMD” joined us for a live Facebook chat to answer our readers’ cold and flu questions. Check out the recap below.

Shanicka Williams, MD, is an advocate for Women’s Health with a desire to empower women to embrace their inner DIVAs (Discovering your Innermost Valuable Assets)! She believes once the mind, body & spirit are in line, your outer beauty will shine!

Are there are proven ways to get a cold to go away faster? – Terry B.

Flu shots, hand washing, healthy eating, and regular exercise are the best ways to avoid cold and flu. If you can stomach supplements, and their cost… These may help strengthen your immune system and reduce the duration of symptoms: Omega 3, Astragalus, Echinacea, Vitamin D, Ginseng, Zinc, and Vitamin C.

Is it possible to spread a cold without having symptoms? – Jason C.

Yes. If you have a sub-clinical infection (you are carrying a bacteria or virus, but show no outward signs/symptoms), you can unknowingly spread the “bug” that causes a cold or flu to others… prior to you feeling ill. Remember, everybody’s immune system is different, so who catches what and when varies.

I have cold/flu issues (stuffy nose and ears) constantly for over 3 months. Does that mean I have allergies? – Saran T.

Saran, your question is a difficult one to answer with a limited amount of information, but generally you may likely be suffering from allergies, as a cold or flu does not have a duration of 3 months. What I would generally be concerned about when I hear constant upper respiratory symptoms for a period of 3 months is upper respiratory infection, or chronic sinusitis.

Chronic sinusitis is one of the more prevalent chronic illnesses in the United States, affecting persons of all age groups. It is an inflammatory process that involves the paranasal sinuses and persists for 12 weeks or longer. The literature has supported that chronic sinusitis is almost always accompanied by concurrent nasal airway inflammation and is often preceded by rhinitis (runny nose) symptoms; thus, the term chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) has evolved to more accurately describe this condition.

Chronic sinusitis manifests more subtly than acute sinusitis. However, it may start suddenly, as an upper respiratory tract infection or acute sinusitis that does not resolve, or emerge slowly and insidiously over months or years. At times, the initial symptoms may be acute in nature. Unless an appropriate history is taken, the diagnosis may be missed. The typical symptoms of acute sinusitis—fever and facial pain—are usually absent in chronic sinusitis. Fever, when present, may be low grade.

Patients with chronic sinusitis may present with the following symptoms:
Nasal obstruction, blockage, congestion, stuffiness
Nasal discharge (of any character from thin to thick and from clear to purulent)
Postnasal drip
Facial fullness, discomfort, pain, and headache (more with nasal polyposis)
Chronic unproductive cough (primarily in children)
Hyposmia or anosmia (more with nasal polyposis)
Sore throat
Fetid breath
Easy fatigability
Exacerbation of asthma
Dental pain (upper teeth)
Visual disturbances
Stuffy ears
Unpleasant taste
Fever of unknown origin

Chronic sinusitis may be noninfectious and related to allergy, cystic fibrosis, gastroesophageal reflux, or exposure to environmental pollutants. Allergic rhinitis, nonallergic rhinitis, anatomic obstruction in the nasal complex, and immunologic disorders are known risk factors for chronic sinusitis.

So, as you can see this condition can be quite involved and resolution could be as simple as a course of antibiotics or as serious as surgery. My recommendation would be, don’t delay any longer, see your healthcare provider for definitive evaluation and treatment.

If I have high blood pressure and a cold does what does that mean when it comes to medicine I can or can’t take? – Bernice J.

Certain cold preparations can exacerbate (make worse) your high blood pressure. Common types of drugs that can make your high blood pressure worse:

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Decongestants like Pseudoephedrine

NSAIDs include both prescription and over-the-counter medication. They are often used to relieve pain or reduce inflammation from conditions such as arthritis. NSAIDs can raise your blood pressure by making your body retain fluid and decrease the function of your kidneys. This process may cause your blood pressure to rise even higher, putting greater stress on your heart and kidneys.

Common NSAIDs that can raise blood pressure:

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)

You may also find NSAIDs in over-the-counter medication for other health problems. Cold medicine, for example, often contains NSAIDs.

Cough and Cold Medications
Many cough and cold medications contain NSAIDs to relieve pain and it may increase your blood pressure. Cough and cold medications also frequently contain decongestants. Decongestants can make blood pressure worse in two ways:
(1) Decongestants may make your blood pressure and heart rate rise.
(2) Decongestants may prevent your blood pressure medication from working properly.

Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) is a specific decongestant that can increase blood pressure.

What can you do to prevent increases in blood pressure?

Avoid using cough and cold medicine that contains NSAIDs or decongestants like Pseudoephedrine. Ask your healthcare provider for specific suggestions about other ways to ease congestion symptoms, such as antihistamines or nasal sprays that may work best for you.

Does exercise play a role in helping a cold go away faster? – Francis L.

Yes! Aerobic exercise speeds up the heart to pump larger quantities of blood; makes you breathe faster to help transfer oxygen from your lungs to your blood; and makes you sweat once your body heats up. These measures help increase the body’s natural virus-killing cells.

Humidifiers have always worked for me, is there something about steam that works best? – Michael E.

Patients suffering from symptoms of a cold may benefit from conditions of increased humidity. Moisture helps to treat dryness inside the nose (nasal passages). It helps add moisture inside the nose to dissolve and soften thick or crusty mucus.

This can be accomplished in several ways. The first is by using a cold mist humidifier. The cold mist humidifier produces a fine mist that adds humidity to the air, which is particularly helpful in relieving symptoms such as nasal congestion. The use of a cold mist humidifier is preferred over a vaporizer because the humidifier creates a cool mist in the air instead of creating steam by heating the water, which is how the vaporizer works.

The hot steam produced by a vaporizer can cause burns if not handled with care. If you use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer, you should be sure to clean the device often, as recommended. This will eliminate the possibility of aerolizing germs through the device. Another way you can increase humidity in the air is by taking a hot shower. The hot shower creates steam, which can provide symptomatic relief of cold symptoms, particularly nasal congestion.

I’m reading more and more about use of a Neti pot. Does that work? – Tikisha M.

Ear, nose, and throat surgeons recommend nasal irrigation with a Neti pot or other method for their patients who’ve undergone sinus surgery. This will clear away crusting in the nasal passages. Many people with sinus symptoms from allergies and environmental irritants also have begun to regularly use the Neti pot or other nasal irrigation devices, claiming that these devices alleviate congestion, and facial pain and pressure. Research backs up these claims, finding that nasal irrigation can be an effective way to relieve sinus symptoms when used along with standard sinus treatments. For some people, nasal irrigation may bring relief of sinus symptoms without the use of medications.

The basic explanation of how the Neti pot works is that it thins mucus and helps flush it out of the nasal passages.

A more biological explanation for how the Neti pot works has to do with tiny, hair-like structures called cilia that line the inside of the nasal and sinus cavities. These cilia wave back and forth to push mucus either to the back of the throat where it can be swallowed, or to the nose to be blown out. Saline solution can help increase the speed and improve coordination of the cilia so that they may more effectively remove the allergens and other irritants that cause sinus problems.

What can I do if I have a history of stroke? Does that affect how fast I can get rid of a cold? – Jahan B.

Jahan… You are really puttin a Sista to work! Excellent question. Complicated answer.

First… What Is a Stroke?
Brain tissue needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to keep nerve cells and other parts of the tissue alive and functioning. The brain relies on a network of blood vessels to provide it with blood that is rich in oxygen. A stroke occurs when one of these blood vessels becomes damaged or blocked, preventing blood from reaching an area of the brain. When that part of the brain is cut off from its supply of oxygen for more than three to four minutes, it begins to die.

There are two types of strokes: those that are caused by a rupture in an artery, also known as hemorrhagic stroke, and strokes that are caused by blockage of an artery, also known as ischemic stroke.

Risk Factors of Stroke
High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke. Other risks include smoking cigarettes and high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. When people with diabetes have a stroke, they often fare worse than individuals without diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms of Stroke?
A stroke is an emergency whether you have diabetes or not. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. You must get to the hospital as soon as possible:

Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
Difficulty speaking or understanding words or simple sentences
Sudden blurred vision or decreased vision in one or both eyes
Sudden difficulty swallowing
Dizziness, loss of balance or becoming uncoordinated
Brief loss of consciousness
Sudden inability to move part of the body (paralysis)
Sudden, unexplainable, and intense headache

To answer your question… If you have diabetes or a co-morbid condition that has an impact on your immune system, this will effect your ability to fight a cold or infection, and will predispose you becoming ill this season. Specifically, if you have a stroke that compromises your lung function (i.e. diaphragm, or respiratory drive) this will predispose a patient to pneumonia (lung infection), cold and even the flu. It’s complicated, but I hope it helps to answer your question.

Can I get the flu from the flu shot? – Michelle A.

No and not really.

No, a flu shot cannot give you the flu. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). In randomized, blinded studies, where some people got flu shots and others got saltwater shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.

The flu shot can cause mild side effects that are sometimes mistaken for flu. For example, people sometimes experience a sore arm where the shot was given. The soreness is often caused by a person’s immune system making protective antibodies in response to being vaccinated. These antibodies are what allow the body to fight against flu. The needle stick may also cause some soreness at the injection site. Rarely, people who get the flu shot have fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness. If experienced at all, these effects usually last 1-2 days after vaccination and are much less severe than actual flu illness.


What kind of people should never get a flu shot? – Jackie W.

People who can’t get the flu shot:

Children younger than 6 months are too young to get a flu shot
People with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.

Note: There are certain flu shots that have different age indications. For example people younger than 65 years of age should not get the high-dose flu shot and people who are younger than 18 years old or older than 64 years old should not get the intradermal flu shot.

Different flu vaccines are approved for use in different groups of people. Factors that can determine a person’s suitability for vaccination, or vaccination with a particular vaccine, include a person’s age, health (current and past) and any relevant allergies, including an egg allergy.

Special Consideration Regarding Egg Allergy

People who have ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs can get recombinant flu vaccine if they are 18 years through 49 years of age or they should get the regular flu shot (IIV) given by a medical doctor with experience in management of severe allergic conditions. People who have had a mild reaction to egg—that is, one which only involved hives—may get a flu shot with additional safety measures. Recombinant flu vaccines also are an option for people if they are 18 years through 49 years of age and they do not have any contraindications to that vaccine. Make sure your doctor or health care professional knows about any allergic reactions. Most, but not all, types of flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg.

What’s the difference between the flu and pneumonia? – Tremaine R.

Flu is a viral illness which has the following symptoms:
A fever of 100 degrees or higher
Fever or feeling feverish (not everyone with the flu has a fever)
A cough and/or sore throat
A runny or stuffy nose
Headaches and/or body aches

Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea (most common in children)

Pneumonia can be a bacterial or a viral condition with the following symptoms:
The most common symptoms of pneumonia are:
Cough (with some pneumonias you may cough up greenish or yellow mucus, or even bloody mucus)
Fever, which may be mild or high.
Shaking chills.
Shortness of breath, which may only occur when you climb stairs.

The flu is commonly short-lived and is treated symptomatically. Bacterial pneumonia is treated specifically based on the bug causing the illness in addition to symptomatically. Both conditions are serious and both can be fatal if not taken seriously.

What drug ingredients should I stay away from if I have heart medication? – Marcelle L.

The answer to this question, depends on your heart condition and the specific medication you may be taking for that specific heart condition.

Drug-drug interactions occur when two or more drugs react with each other, causing an unexpected side effect. For example, mixing a drug you take to help you sleep (a sedative) and a drug you take for allergies (an antihistamine) can slow your reactions and make driving a car or operating machinery dangerous.

Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines temporarily relieve a runny nose, or reduce sneezing, itching of the nose or throat, and itchy watery eyes. Antihistamines taken along with blood pressure medication can cause your blood pressure to increase and may also speed up your heart rate.

Bronchodilators: These drugs temporarily relieve shortness of breath, tightness of chest and wheezing due to bronchial asthma. Ask a doctor before use if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease or diabetes.

Cordarone (amiodarone): Patients taking Zocor (Simvastatin) in doses higher than 20 mg while also taking Cordarone run the risk of developing a rare condition of muscle injury called rhabdomyolysis, which can lead to kidney failure or death. Cordarone also can inhibit or reduce the effect of the blood thinner Coumadin (warfarin), so if you’re using Cordarone, you may need to reduce the amount of Coumadin you’re taking.

Nasal decongestants: These drugs can relieve nasal congestion due to a cold, hay fever or other upper respiratory allergies, but you should ask a doctor if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease or diabetes.

Nicotine replacement products: These drugs can help you kick a deadly habit, but ask your doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking a prescription drug for depression or asthma, or using a prescription non-nicotine stop-smoking drug. Do not use if you continue to smoke, chew tobacco or use snuff or other nicotine-containing products.

My advice is to check with your healthcare provider regarding any and all possible drug interactions. As you can see, some of the drug-to-drug interactions can be potentially dangerous and life-threatening. Hope this helps.

Visit the BlackDoctor.org Cold & Flu center for more articles.