The symptoms of a common cold can be all too familiar. A cold usually lasts anywhere from 1 or 2 weeks and clears up on its own. Statistics show that the common cold accounts for over 22 million missed school days in the US every year. The adult population averages around 2 to 4 colds a year per person, and kids get about 6 to 10 colds every year. This article will help you understand the difference between colds and influenza, how they are diagnosed, and helpful tips to manage it.
A common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection caused by a virus. The infection is usually mild, but often sends people to the doctor thinking they may have the flu or even a sinus infection. Colds happen most often during the fall and winter months, but can also happen during the spring and summer.
Symptoms of a Common Cold
The symptoms of a common cold are consistent with the symptoms of most upper respiratory tract infections. It is interesting to know that around 25% of people who have a cold may not show any indicators at all. The symptoms of a common cold include:
In some cases, symptoms may be similar to the flu and you may feel:
Loss of appetite
Symptom Comparison, Cold or Flu?
Can be 102° or higher
Not as common
Common Cold Causes
The common cold is caused by one of over 200 different viruses. A few of the more common viruses are:
Respiratory Syncytial Virus
These viruses are transmitted from person to person by sneezing, coughing, and on contaminated areas the sufferer has touched. You may pick up a cold virus on areas such as shopping cart handles, toys, gas pump nozzles, light switches, and sharing dishes. Some of these viruses have been known to live as long as three hours on surfaces.
Risk Factors forthe Common Cold
The Season. Colds tend to be more prevalent in the fall and winter months. For many years doctors have thought the reason behind this is that people tend to stay indoors in closed off environments, which can facilitate easy spread of the virus. Also, recent studies have shown that the body’s ability to fight off the cold viruses is diminished when the internal temperature of the nose decreases and this can happen while spending time outdoors during the colder months.
Age of the Sufferer. Colds are more common in babies and children because they have more immature immune systems. They also tend to put toys in their mouths and do not always wash their hands.
Immune System Function. If you have a chronic health condition or are elderly, your immune system may be less able to fight off a cold virus.
Diagnosing a Cold
If you have the symptoms above and are not sure if you are suffering from a cold, influenza, or a bacterial infection you should go see your doctor. The doctor will ask you a few questions about how long you have been feeling unwell and what your symptoms are. They will most likely look for the following physical signs of a cold:
Redness inside the nose
Clear, watery discharge (Less than 10 days)
If your throat is red, the doctor may take a swab to culture for strep infection. If you are coughing and have wheezing, you may need to have a chest x-ray.
While your grandmother may swear by chicken soup for a cold, there is no known cure for the cold. Since it is not a bacterial infection, antibiotics will not help. There are some over-the-counter medications that can help relieve symptoms if they are severe. These are:
Pain Medications. Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter pain medications to help relieve your fever, headache, and sore throat. These should not be given to infants less than 3 months old. It is not safe to use aspirin or aspirin based products in children’s and teenagers that are suffering from viral infections as it can cause a severe reaction called Reye’s syndrome.
Nasal Decongestants. Decongestant sprays can be helpful in relieving nasal congestion. These products should not be used more than the duration of the cold due to a rebound affect. They should also not be used by children.
Nasal Strips. Nasal strips are a safe and effective way to help open up nasal passages in both adults and children. They stick on the outside of the nose and pull passages open.
Cough Medicine. Cough medicine can help loosen mucus and quiet coughs. Some are cold preparations of a few different medications to relieve all symptoms and help you sleep. There are even “daytime” preparations that are non-drowsy.
Eat Healthy. Try to eat a healthy diet when you are sick. Eat things that are tolerable if you have a sore throat. One popular cold remedy is a hot bowl of chicken soup. Researchers have actually found that chicken soup has properties that may help speed up healing from colds. The warmth can also help relieve congestion in the nose.
Keep the Humidity High. Humid air will relieve congestion, scratchy throats, and quiet your cough. Make sure your humidifier is clean and try to use filtered or bottled water.
Rest and Fluids. One of the best and most highly recommended cold treatments is plain old rest! Your doctor will most likely recommend that you go home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. Stay home from work or school if you can which will help prevent spread to others.
Common Cold Complications
A few complications can result from the excessive drainage that comes with a cold. These are uncommon and usually only happen to people with compromised immune systems. Some of the complications of a common cold are:
Croup (In children)
In these cases, the doctor may need to prescribe an antibiotic because these may be due to “secondary” bacterial infections.
Lifestyle Changes and Prevention Tips
A few lifestyle changes can help lessen the severity of colds and possibly even prevent you from getting one in the first place. These include:
Wash your hands often. It has been scientifically proven that “hand washing is the single most effective prevention against any infection.” Wash your hands often and keep hand sanitizer with you.
Use disinfectant wipes provided for shopping carts. When you grab a cart at the store, use the provided wipes to clean the handle.
Drink plenty of fluids. During a cold, you need extra fluids to help keep mucus thin. Your body also needs extra fluids to help it heal.
Steer clear of crowds.If you catch colds easily or have a very young baby, steer clear of crowds during cold season.
Alternative Medicine for Colds
Hot Tea with Honey and Lemon
Any hot beverage can help to thin mucus. Honey can soothe a sore throat and can help boost the immune system. Take tea and add honey with a squeeze of lemon juice.
These use a gentle saline solution to rinse out the sinus cavity. This can help rinse out irritants and possibly even prevent bacterial infections from forming.
Eucalyptus can help relieve congestion helping you to breathe better. Place a few drops on a warm washcloth and hold over your nose. You can also place a few drops of eucalyptus oil into your humidifier cup.
Some research has shown that if Echinacea is taken in the first few days of the onset of cold symptoms, the duration and severity may be less. If you have an immune system disorder, Echinacea is not recommended.