Lung disease can afflict virtually any individual, regardless of the person’s gender or age. However, certain people are at higher risk for specific diseases of the lung than others. For example, influenza, often simply referred to as “the flu,” is a highly contagious illness that affects the lungs, bronchial tubes and throat. Certain individuals also experience stomach symptoms when afflicted with influenza. Essentially anyone can contract this illness under certain circumstances. However, the elderly, children, and those whose immune systems are compromised are at a greater risk for such disease than other demographic groups. Some people may wonder how is influenza best treated and how is this diagnosed? The following will help clarify these and other questions:
Types of Influenza
There are two primary types of the flu: influenza A and influenza B. Type A typically affects individuals in early winter, but influenza B has no pattern regarding its occurrence and infects adults and children randomly throughout the year. Another major difference between the two types is that influenza B can only be contracted from another human, while influenza A can be spread to humans from certain animals and birds. Influenza C is a third, less common flu type and is not as severe as the aforementioned strains. Both type A and type B flu have produced epidemics throughout history, but type C has never been associated with an epidemic.
The symptoms of influenza include fever, chills, loss of appetite, body aches, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, nasal and lung congestion, and fatigue. Symptoms can be present in one’s gastrointestinal tract, lungs, or both. The same strains are responsible regardless of where the symptoms manifest. There is no distinct strain that results in what is commonly called “stomach flu.” Rather, it is simply the area in which the germ has taken up residence that determines where the symptoms present. In certain cases, particularly with influenza A, the fever comes on quickly and can reach as high as 105 degrees. Although A and B influenza are associated with the same symptoms, type B generally produces much milder symptoms than type A. In addition, fevers with both strains are usually higher in children than adults.
The most common complication of influenza is bacterial pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening lung disease that gestates in the bronchial tubes. It is associated with a high fever, painful, difficult breathing, and a dry, continuous cough. Encephalitis, a brain infection, can also occur in those afflicted with the flu. In children, both A and B type flu can lead to Reyes syndrome, which is a disorder of the nervous system. The use of aspirin when a lung disease such as influenza is present can increase a child’s risk for this condition.
There are several steps involved in diagnosing any type of lung disease, including various strains of the flu. One of the quickest diagnostic tests, which is commonly used in a doctor’s office, is referred to as a rapid antigen detection test. The physician will collect a swab specimen from the throat or nose of the patient for testing, and definitive results are often available in as little as 15 minutes.
A throat culture is another method used to diagnose the flu. During this test, a swab sample is taken and placed in a tube, from which it is observed over the course of 48 hours. If an infection grows in the test tube or petri dish, the results are considered positive for influenza. Although less common, polymerase chain reaction tests are sometimes used as well. Such tests involve the use of DNA samples which are evaluated for alterations or mutations that may be present if one is suffering from influenza. A person’s doctor is the best individual to determine which testing procedures are most appropriate.
Because influenza is caused by a virus rather than a bacteria, antibiotics are not typically recommended. However, such drugs are sometimes prescribed for persons with compromised immune systems or those who are at an increased risk of developing pneumonia or a similar lung disease. In rare cases, antiviral medications are recommended for patients with influenza, but due to the fact that antiviral drugs are associated with severe side effects and additional health risks, they are not usually prescribed unless the patient is at risk of dying from the infection. Fortunately, the latter is rarely the case, as most types of influenza are eventually destroyed by the person’s immune system and long-term complications virtually never occur if prompt treatment is sought.
Most physicians recommend rest, plenty of fluids, and nutritious food for those afflicted with the flu. In certain instances, decongestants such as phenylphrine, pseudoephedrine or antihistamines are recommended. In some cases, patients find relief from the use of a vaporizer as well, particularly while sleeping. In those suffering from stomach symptoms due to influenza, a bland diet and over-the-counter remedies are often prescribed, such as Coke syrup or Pepto-Bismol. In patients with severe nausea, antiemetics such as promethazine or phosphoric acid may be recommended as well. Any individual who suspects that he or she is suffering from any type of lung disease should seek the advice of a physician in order to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.