About The Common Cold:
The common cold, also known as a viral upper respiratory tract infection, is a
contagious illness that can be caused by a number of different types of
viruses. Because of the great number of viruses that can cause a cold, the body
never builds up resistance against all of them. For this reason, colds are a
frequent and recurring problem. In fact, on average, preschool children have 9
colds a year; those in kindergarten, 12 colds a year; and adolescents and
adults, 7 colds per year.
Symptoms Of The Common Cold
Symptoms of a common cold include nasal stuffiness and drainage, sore throat,
hoarseness, cough, and perhaps a fever and headache. Many people with a cold
feel tired and achy. These symptoms typically last from 3-10 days.
How is the common
The common cold is spread mostly by hand-to-hand contact. For example, a person
with a cold blows or touches his or her nose and then touches someone else who
then becomes infected with the virus. Additionally, the cold virus can live on
objects such as pens, books, and coffee cups for several hours and can be
acquired from such objects. While common sense would suggest that coughing and
sneezing spread the common cold, these are actually very poor mechanisms for
spreading a cold.
Does it have anything to do with exposure to cold weather?
Going out into the cold weather has no effect on the spread of a cold. The
reason that there appears to be a relationship is that people spend more time
indoors during the cold winter weather. In fact, however, it is the proximity
to other people rather than the temperature outside that seems to be the
culprit. For this same reason, children in daycare or kindergarten are
particularly prone to having colds.
Not Help In The Common Cold:
No. Antibiotics play no role in treating the common cold. Antibiotics only work
against illnesses caused by bacteria and colds are caused by viruses. Not only
do antibiotics not help, but they can also cause allergic reactions that may be
fatal (1:40,000). Further, using antibiotics when they are not necessary has
led to the growth of several strains of common bacteria that are resistant to
antibiotics (including one that commonly causes ear infections in children).
For these and other reasons, it is important to limit the use of antibiotics to
situations in which they are necessary.
Sometimes, an infection with bacteria can follow the cold virus. Bacterial
infections are treated with antibiotics.
Is there anything that can be done at home for the common cold?
Yes, several therapies have been shown to be effective. The most exciting news
about the common cold is zinc. In a recent trial, zinc gluconate lozenges
reduced the duration of symptoms from a common cold by about 3 days if started
within the first 24 hours of symptoms. The dose used was 13.3mg of zinc every 2
hours while awake. This study was done in adults and, while it has shown
favorable results, it will require further studies in order to determine
optimal recommendations. Zinc is not
recommended for children under age 13 unless suggested by your healthcare
practitioner. Zinc lozenges are available from most grocery stores and
Vitamin C, if taken on a regular basis, can help reduce the duration of
symptoms from a common cold. It does not prevent you from getting a cold,
however, and starting it after you have a cold doesn't help.
A number of treatments that can ease the symptoms associated with a common
cold also exist. Decongestants, such as pseudo ephedrine (Sudafed and others),
and nasal sprays (Afrin and others) can help reduce symptoms. Persons with
heart disease, poorly controlled high blood pressure, or other illness should
contact their physician or other healthcare practitioner prior to using these
medications. Additionally, over the counter nasal sprays should not be used for
more than 3 days because the nose can become dependent on them and a worse
stuffy nose will result when they are discontinued.
Antihistamines may help reduce nasal drainage. Only those antihistamines
that can also cause drowsiness seem to work. Again, the elderly or those
individuals with other health problems (such as prostate trouble or
constipation) should contact their healthcare practitioner before using these
Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or ibuprofen (Advil and others) can help
with the muscle aches. Cough can be controlled with cough syrups containing
dextromethorphan. Finally, drink lots of fluids, use throat lozenges for sore
throat, and stay in a moist environment.
When should a doctor or other health care practitioner be
If you have tried the over-the-counter remedies without any success, several
prescription medications are available for nasal stuffiness and cough (for
example, ipratropium or cromolyn nasal spray for stuffiness and drainage and
benzonatate for cough).
If you have a sore throat with fever and no cold symptoms, you should be seen by
your doctor. This type of sore throat is more likely to be a Strep throat or
other potentially serious illness.
If you notice facial pain, tooth pain, or yellow drainage from your nose
accompanied by a fever, it is possible that you have an infection of the nasal
passages or a dental infection that would benefit from a medical
evaluation and a course of antibiotics.
Common Cold At A Glance
Common colds are caused by viruses.
Going out into the cold weather has no effect on the spread of a cold.
Antibiotics do not help the common cold.
There are effective home remedies for the common cold.