I explain the differences between the common cold and the flu. I also share some of my experiences having a cold and the home remedies that I usually take or do. And my experience getting tested for Covid.
Hey! How’re you going? This is Alena and welcome to the Along Came English podcast.
If you’re new here, this is an English learning podcast where I talk about a variety of different topics, share some stories from my life and explain some English stuff along the way.
Well, for the past week, I’ve been recovering from a cold. So I thought I might talk about that for this episode. You can probably hear that I still have a scratchy voice.
I hate being sick. I’m sure most of you do too. I particularly hate getting sick because when I do, it’s rarely a mild one. I’m not even sure if it’s just the kind of virus… or viruses that goes around Melbourne or the weather, but I usually need an inhaler to help with the coughing fits.
Yea, it doesn’t… it doesn’t sound great. Thankfully this time around, it wasn’t so bad. As I’m preparing for this episode, I am still a little tired and I still have a slight dry cough, but I’m out of bed, working, working out, so I think I’m over the worst of it.
Anyway, since we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, I went to get tested for Covid. And thankfully the results came back negative, so that was a relief.
Now that winter is coming and restrictions about mask-wearing are becoming more lax here, the cold is going around. After this, I think I might go back to wearing masks when I’m out – yea, I hate getting sick.
So in this episode, I’ll explain the differences between the common cold and the flu. I’ll share some of my experiences having a cold or a flu as well as the most recent one. I’ll also talk about the home remedies that I usually take or do when I get sick. And my experience getting tested for Covid.
A brief disclaimer, I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. I’m sharing these stories for the purpose of English learning. I know I’m sharing some home remedies that I use for myself but this shouldn’t replace professional medical advice and you should see a doctor if you’re feeling unwell.
Now there are transcripts on the website – alongcameenglish.com. Or you can read along if you’re watching the video on YouTube.
If you find this interesting or helpful, please like, subscribe or follow. And also please consider supporting Along Came English on Patreon or via Paypal.
What is a cold/flu
All right. Let’s start with what a cold is.
A “cold” or “common cold” is a viral infection of the nose and throat that usually lasts within two weeks. And it’s considered generally harmless and don’t lead to serious health problems and your body just recovers from a cold. Symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and congestion.
“Congestion” means that you’re unable to breath because your nose is blocked. I don’t know about you but sometimes I get a slight headache because of this .
“Flu” or “influenza” is also a common viral infection but is more severe than a cold and affects the nose, throat and lungs. It can be particularly bad for people in high-risk groups like young children, elderly, pregnant women, or people with chronic disease or weak immune systems. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, fatigue.
I think maybe some of the previous times I’ve been sick were actually flus.
Now a flu is not the same as a cold. The common cold and flu are respiratory illnesses that are caused by different viruses even though they have very similar symptoms.
“Respiratory” means relating to breathing. So respiratory illnesses are illnesses that affect your respiratory system that include parts of the body related to your breathing like the nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, lungs etc.
When I was younger, “flu” was often used to describe a “cold.” I’m not sure if that’s the regional English used where I grew up. Over here, it’s actually more common to say “cold” rather than “flu” even if you are really sick.
So yea, even though they are different, “cold” and “flu” are often used interchangeably in everyday English. Doctors and sometimes scientific articles will say “viral infection” to refer to a cold or a flu, but that’s not… that’s not as colloquial
Apparently, symptoms of flu are very similar to Covid, with the difference that flu symptoms occur much faster. And Covid – according to current research – has more likelihood of leading to severe illness or death.
So yea, it… it makes a lot of sense to get tested if you can – if you have mild symptoms, you know, just… just to be sure.
Memories of having a cold/flu
My earliest memory of having a cold was when I was about five or six. We were living in Singapore then. And I remember I was wearing this yellow, sailor-themed jacket. It had zipper pulls in the shape of a ship wheel.
A “zipper pull” is the tab you pull to open or close your zipper.
And I just have this memory of walking with my mum to the clinic, and sitting in front of the doctor. I remember feeling a little cold even though I was in Singapore, so I was wearing… so I was wearing this jacket. And that I was not as energetic as I usually was.
I don’t think I took a day off from school actually. I remember wearing my school uniform underneath the jacket. Back then, it was quite rare for me to take a day off even if I was sick.
After that, I really don’t remember getting sick until I got to Melbourne. Of course you’re not going to remember every time you have a cold right? But yea, I don’t think I ever really missed a day of school, so I must’ve gone to school even when I was sick.
I do remember the first time I got sick in Melbourne though. It was my first year here and also my first winter. And my cough was so bad – particularly in the mornings. I was coughing up all this phlegm and I still went to school.
So “phlegm” is a thick mucus or substance that you cough up during a cold. And this is different from the thinner mucus that comes from a runny nose.
So “mucus” is a sticky substance produced in different parts of the body. Usually they help to protect the body, but having an infection will cause the production of more mucus from the nose and throat.
The year before I left for Malaysia was pretty bad for me. This might’ve been 2015 to 2016. I was sick every month. And I would get these coughing fits. My doctor even prescribed an inhaler to help me manage my coughing.
So an “inhaler” or a “puffer” is a medical device used to deliver medicine into the lungs – often this is used by people who have asthma or breathing problems.
An inhaler requires a prescription. “Prescription medicine” is medicine only made available to a patient if they have written instruction from a doctor – and this written instruction is called a “prescription.” So I got a prescription from my doctor for my inhaler which I presented to a pharmacist, and then they gave me an inhaler… or sold me an inhaler, I should say.
A “coughing fit” is as an attack of violent and uncontrollable coughing. Yea, it sounds kind of scary right? So basically, it’s a cough that starts and refuses to stop. I’m not asthmatic but my doctor prescribed an inhaler to help me with my coughing fits and it helped so much.
So during this time when I was getting sick every month, I was also really unhappy and stressed out with work and studying, so I think my mental state also contributed to how often I was getting sick. Now some people don’t think that your mental health affects your physical health, but I do – I think… I think they’re more connected than some people think.
Now the worst viral infection I had was in 2018, when I returned from Malaysia. I was sick for a whole month. I was in bed most of the time. I felt really exhausted – like, I had never felt fatigue like that before. I would get up to have my meals and then go straight back to bed.
I lost my voice. I think I even recorded a podcast episode while I was recovering and my voice was still a little scratchy. I had an… I had an inhaler to help with the coughing but yea, I… I did not sound like I usually did. My voice sounded really strange for a while.
Now when I say “I lost my voice.” Of course, it doesn’t mean that I became mute. It means that my voice became abnormal. It’s pretty common for people who have overused their voice, like singing or talking to much, to lose their voice.
I think I also lost some sense of taste. Don’t remember about smell though. But yea, I have a vague memory of food tasting really weird for a while.
After I finally recovered, I didn’t get sick again for over a year. I’m not sure if it did something to my immunity but I was really impressed. But that whole… that whole experience was really rough.
The next time I got sick again was when I was backpacking in Europe and it was one of those types of coughing colds as well. And my inhaler ran out and I ended up consuming a whole bag of cough drops just to help manage my coughing. I guess I could’ve gone to see a doctor to get a prescription but I just didn’t have time because I was moving around so much. I think I had a coughing fit in a museum one time. Yea.
My recent cold & “The Platform”
So fast forward to now.
So during 2020, I did not get sick at all. We were in lockdown for most of the year. So I hadn’t been sick for over a year.
When I felt that I was coming down with something, I was nervous. I mean, my previous experiences with getting sick have been pretty bad. I didn’t get the flu shot this year.
So “come down with” is the phrasal verb that means to catch or show signs of an illness.
And a “flu shot” is an “influenza vaccine,” that protects against infection by influenza viruses. There’re new versions developed once or twice a year. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick at all because the virus changes pretty quickly, but studies have shown vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by 40-60%.
There are flu shots available here every year. And I have never gotten it before. So yea… maybe I should right?
Anyway, I came down with a cold. I felt some tightness in my throat when I woke up and I was quite concerned because that often leads to a sore throat and all the coughing. Thankfully that was a false alarm.
It eventually developed into a runny nose, lots of sneezing, some congestion, tiredness, and a dry cough.
I find it funny that “runny” is the adjective to describe a nose when it produces mucus. It’s incorrect to say “running nose,” but yea, it’s… it’s a “runny nose.”
Now when I say “dry cough,” it just means that i’m not producing or coughing up phlegm. Interestingly, when you are producing phlegm, that’s called a “wet cough,” which is not a term I’ve heard commonly used.
I think it’s because one wouldn’t usually describe their symptoms to someone else by saying that they have a “wet cough” or that they’re “coughing up phlegm.” “Dry cough” is okay; “wet cough,” not… not really. Usually you would say that to your doctor or maybe a pharmacist if you’re looking for over the counter cough medicine or something.
The expression “over the counter” means that you don’t require prescription from a doctor. So most cough syrups or cold medicines are over the counter and don’t require a prescription from a doctor.
I spent a few days in bed. I took a few days’ break because I was feeling a little tired. I still had a few lessons here and there – thankfully I was able to manage that. And also, these are online lessons, so chances of spreading an infection are pretty slim.
I watched a lot of movies on Netflix. One in particular that I watched was The Platform which is a Spanish sci-fi horror film. In this movie, residents are housed in a tower who are switched every month between the different floors. They are then fed via a platform that descends through the many levels, so those in the upper floors get fed while those below starve.
It is a very dark movie, but I find it a very intriguing conceptual film. Some scenes were definitely disturbing and gory, but I thought it was really good.
Now I don’t typically watch a horror film just because it’s a horror film. Usually I watch horror when it’s framed within another genre, like comedy or sci-fi. And this movie is also often interpreted as an allegory for capitalism, so… so yea, it is thought-provoking for some.
Anyway, I’m not 100% but I definitely feel heaps better and I have more energy. I took most of last week off which is why I didn’t have any videos up this week. I still have a slight cough with a scratchy throat. Still a little bit tired, but not as bad as last week.
I also went to get some stuff to help me recover from the cold.
A “remedy” is a way of curing or dealing with an illness that doesn’t require a doctor’s prescription or professional supervision. Remedies include utilising natural products, supplements, or physical measures, which are usually shared through families, local communities or cultural stories or rituals.
Now, I’m going to share some of my home remedies. But just keep in mind, I’m not… I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. These are some things that I took or did that I thought could help me recover. I do try to do my research but this shouldn’t replace medical advice from professionals – you… get what I mean.
So I went to a local pharmacy and got a bottle of chewable vitamin C’s, elderberry syrup, and paracetamol. These products are all over the counter.
There are decongestants that come with paracetamol products to help with congestion, but for some reason, I’m not sure why, I didn’t get those this time.
You might have heard of the terms, “drugstore,” “chemist” and “pharmacy,” to describe a place to get medicine from. Often they are retail stores that also sell makeup, toiletries, perfume, cleaning products, vitamins and supplements, and then have a section where pharmacists dispense prescription medication.
Now the word “chemist” can refer to both the store and the pharmacist as well.
I know there are some distinctions in American English between these words but they actually mean the same thing here in Australia. I’d say “chemist” and “pharmacy” are more common here.
I also got some kiwis. Apparently you can get red kiwis now, which have pinkish flesh and tastes like golden kiwis. A little on the expensive side but quite sweet and I guess still considered exotic. Kiwis contain more Vitamin C than oranges if you eat 2 at a time.
I added a lot of garlic to my food as well. I wanted to add ginger to my meals, but I forgot to get some and I couldn’t be bothered going to the store again.
I don’t have tea at home, so I just had warm honey water.
I also got cough lozenges, but because I didn’t develop a bad cough, I ended up not really using them much.
In previous times, I’ve bought cough syrup. I didn’t get them this time because I didn’t… I don’t really find them that effective for me in general.
Now these home remedies that one would consume, unfortunately don’t have strong scientific evidence that they are effective for preventing or treating a cold. All the articles that I read, even those from more reputable medical organisations, all say that they may help, but lack concrete, scientific evidence. So yea.
As for more physical measures, I got plenty of rest. I would also sleep with my pillow slightly raised. I find this helps with congestion. This was advice given by a doctor I used to see and I think it’s the most effective one for me. My nose would often get blocked during the night and this would affect my sleep because of difficulty breathing. I just found this really helpful.
Having a hot shower really helps me with congestion too – not burning hot of course, just really warm. Now I didn’t shower several times a day but it really helped when I felt particularly congested in the evenings.
My mom would do something called “steam inhalation” to help clear respiratory passages when she was sick. And this is where you get a bucket of warm water and inhale the steam. Again, not with hot, boiling water – just very warm water. And she would put some Vicks into it as well. Now I’ve tried this in the past, but I didn’t feel any relief from it though so it’s not something I do when I have a cold.
As you can tell, I do quite a lot when I get sick. It’s possible that most of these are placebos rather than actual treatments. I mean I did all these things when I was really sick back in 2018 and I was still sick for an entire month.
A “placebo” has a few definitions. This can refer to a medicine or procedure that has more of a psychological benefit than a physical one, which is the definition I’m using here. In science, a “placebo” is a substance with no therapeutic effect, used as a control or standard when testing new drugs.
Getting tested for Covid
As I mentioned earlier, I also went to get tested for Covid. So yea, I thought I would share my experience here.
I didn’t know this before but there’s actually a website with a list of all the COVID-19 testing sites in Victoria, so I found one nearest to me.
And before I went into the building, into the site, I had to scan a QR code that led me to a questionnaire I had to fill in before entering.
I then entered the waiting room where all the staff were wearing PPE from top to bottom, and all the chairs were placed at a distance from each other.
“PPE” is short for “personal protective equipment.” So they were wearing face shields, masks, gloves, and disposable long-sleeved gowns.
It was a little bit weird going in there because for the last several months, restaurants, shops and the streets have been crowded with people not wearing masks, not social distancing. Masks are still supposed to be compulsory on public transportation, but I’ve noticed that many don’t bother anymore.
Actually I received an email from the Department of Transportation stating that masks are still compulsory on public transportation.
Anyway, so yea, a little strange seeing socially distanced chairs again.
So when I entered the waiting room, a staff greeted me and confirmed my details, and then directed me to take a seat.
I don’t think I waited too long – maybe about 20 minutes. I mean, maybe that’s… that’s long for you but I thought it was okay. I had to get antibacterial wipes to wipe down my chair when they called my name.
I was led to a room that was big enough for 2 people to get tested at the same time. And the staff who was going to test me confirmed my details again.
Now there was another person getting tested in the same room who was there just before me, so it was kind of interesting to witness someone else get tested. I’d say… I’d say her experience was not great, and I could see she was struggling with… with the swab test.
After the staff confirmed my details, he explained that he would swab both sides of the back of my throat, and then in each of my nostrils, but it would be quick, albeit somewhat uncomfortable.
I was out of there before the other person.
It was a strange experience but not extremely uncomfortable. I had no gag reflex, or felt like I was stabbed. It just feels like having a cotton bud a little too far up in your nose. Yea.
They told me that the results should be back within 24 hours, and that they would send me a text message if I was negative or call me if I was positive.
I got a message in less than 6 hours. Very happy… very relieved that it was negative.
Anyway, I should finish the episode here.
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Well, thank you so much for listening. Stay safe. Have a good day and I’ll catch you later. Bye.