Everything You Need to Know About the Common Cold

Introduction

A common cold is an ailment of the upper respiratory tract. The evident symptoms of runny or stuffy nose, headaches, and sore throat are characteristic features of the common cold.

What are the common cold causes?

The common cold is caused by a viral infection, typically the rhinoviruses. An average adult typically develops the infection 2-3 times a year. Children and babies are more likely to get a viral infection due to their immature immune systems.

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

Upon exposure, the symptoms present over 1 to 3 days. While the symptoms often vary in severity, they typically include:

  • Nasal congestion with a stuffy or runny nose.
  • Loss of smell and taste.
  • Sneezing and coughing.
  • Nasal drops or drainage in the throat.
  • Sore throat.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes around the throat.
  • Generalised fatigue or weakness.
  • Low-grade fever with chill.
  • Mild body aches.

The nasal discharge may be clear initially, thicken, and change colour to yellow or green over time. Common cold symptoms last for about a week to 10 days. After a peak at about the 5th day, the symptoms improve. If the symptoms persist after this time or worsen, it is wise to consult a physician.

What are the factors that increase the likelihood of developing a common cold?

Factors that can influence the common cold include:

  • Age – children and the elderly are more prone to develop the infection due to their weak immune systems.
  • Compromised immune system – Chronic conditions can reduce the immune response to infections.
  • Seasonal changes – Changes in the season and sudden exposure to cold and rain can increase the risk of infection for both – adults and children.
  • Smoking – Smoking (even second-hand smoking) can make one prone to upper respiratory infections like the common cold.
  • Poor hygiene manners – Unclean hands touching the eyes and nose can cause the virus to spread and cause infection.
  • Exposure – An infected individual can spread the infection through sneezing/coughing droplets in the air and touching contaminated surfaces.

What is the medicine for common cold?

Common cold treatments aim to reduce symptoms. Antibiotics against a common cold are futile, and one should avoid them unless there is a bacterial infection.

Medicines for the common cold include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) fever and pain relievers.
  • Nasal decongestant sprays.
  • Cough syrups.

Usually, the common cold symptoms improve within 7-10 days and require no additional treatment. It is not advisable to give OTC medications to infants and children.

One can deal with the infection by providing a healthy environment for the body to heal.

Home remedies for the common cold

Home remedies for common cold like the OTC help manage the symptoms till the body heals. Effective home remedies for the common cold include:

  • Salt Water gargling – Gargling with salt water coats the throat and reduces the irritation in case of sore throats.
  • Fluids – Hydrating the body by drinking plenty of fluids can relieve nasal congestion and combat the fluid loss due to nasal discharge.
  • Use of vaporub – Topical application of vapour rubs can help ease the congestion and allow one to breathe.
  • Rest – As the body heals, it needs plenty of rest. It conserves energy and allows the immune response to fight the infection.
  • Hot ginger tea or chicken soup – These hot drinks replenish the fluid lost and provide sore throat relief.
  • Steam inhalation – Inhaling steam allows the thick nasal discharge to drain, reducing decongestion.

How can one prevent the common cold?

Vaccines for the common cold are unavailable, and preventive care is the only option against the infection. Here are some means through which one can prevent a common cold infection from spreading:

  • Hand-washing – One should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds to prevent the spread of the virus from the hands. If water and soap are unavailable, one can opt for alcohol-based sanitisers to disinfect hands. Touching the face (eyes and nose in particular) with unclean hands can spread the viral infection.
  • Disinfecting the contact surfaces – Several surfaces such as doorknobs, handles, switches, countertops, tables, remotes, and cell phones in the house and workplace come in regular hand contact. The virus can spread to different individuals through these contact surfaces. Regularly cleaning and disinfecting these contact surfaces can prevent the spread.
  • Covering the mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing – These mannerisms prevent the droplet spread of the virus through the air and reduce the risk of infection to other individuals. Always use disposable tissue to cover the mouth and throw them after every use. When a tissue is not available, one can use the elbow bend instead.
  • Keep separate utensils – Avoid sharing utensils and glasses if sick. Instead, opt for disposable cups and plates. Labelling the cups is a wise option if disposables are unavailable.
  • Maintain distance – Social distancing is the best option when in public to avoid infectious spread during the seasonal changes. Crowded areas with reduced ventilation can easily communicate the viral spread among the masses. With distancing, one can reduce the risk.
  • Healthy habits – Teaching healthy habits from childhood can inculcate good hygiene manners. Also, a healthy and well-balanced diet with adequate exercise can optimise the immune system against the common cold.

Conclusion

Although the common cold symptoms can be uncomfortable, they last for only a week to 10 days. A cure is unavailable for this viral infection, but one can easily manage the symptoms through OTC medications and home remedies. Prevention of the common cold merely requires good hygiene.

If the symptoms persist or worsen, consult a physician, as sometimes other upper respiratory infections can be mistaken for a common cold.

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