COMMON COLD SYMPTOMSWe are all familiar with the symptoms, as well. We wake up in the morning and realize that our nose is stuffed up and it’s hard to breathe through it. Or it’s running, and we have to grab for tissue after tissue. We might sneeze repeatedly, have a sore throat, a hoarse voice, a headache, perhaps even a fever. We may feel tired and achy and want nothing more than just to get back in bed. And forget eating, even chicken soup doesn’t sound good—not that we could taste it, anyway. The problem with colds is that, except for the most severe ones, they seldom render us sick enough to stay home and cancel the events of our day. They render us just sick enough to be miserable going about those events, and they can last from three to ten days.
COMMON COLD CAUSESMany people believe that going out into cold or wet weather can cause them to catch a cold, but this isn’t true. Although winter is thought of as cold season, cold weather is only a secondary cause of the common cold. The true cause of colds is contact with infected people, even if those people don’t know that they carry a cold virus on their hands. Colds are most commonly picked up by touching other people’s hands, or by touching surfaces that people with cold viruses have touched. Cold weather keeps people indoors, in close proximity to each other, touching the same doorknobs, faucets, and surfaces, and passing around the same germs.
COMMON COLD TREATMENTThere are few effective treatments for the common cold. From time to time researchers attempt to develop vaccines for colds, but even the most effective vaccine could only prevent against a fraction of the most widespread cold viruses, leaving people susceptible to hundreds of other ones. People often request medications from their doctors when they have bad colds, and doctors have been known to prescribe antibiotics, but the truth is that antibiotics have absolutely no effect at all, because colds are caused by a virus, not a bacteria. This practice is discouraged as well because it helps people to build up a resistance to antibiotics which could prove dangerous.
COMMON COLD PREVENTIONThe most important way to prevent getting a cold, or to keep colds from spreading, is through washing hands. Hands should be washed frequently, at least every time you use the bathroom, but more often than that if possible. Wipe surfaces that are commonly touched by people, such as doorknobs, faucets, kitchen tables and countertops, and refrigerator and stove handles.
Image: Common Cold
Colds cannot be cured by antibiotics or other medications, but the symptoms can be alleviated somewhat by home remedies. Over the counter decongestants and nasal sprays can help ease congestion, dry out sinus passages, and make breathing easier. This includes the use of antihistamines, especially those that induce sleepiness, so people should be extremely cautious when taking such medications. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can relieve muscle aches and headaches and reduce fever. Eye drops can relieve redness or stinging eyes, and throat sprays or lozenges can help reduce the pain of a sore throat or the hoarseness that colds can bring. Cough syrups that contain dextromethorphan are helpful for limiting coughs. It is also very important to drink fluids, since the body tends toward dehydration when it is sick and cannot work at its most efficient levels unless it is properly hydrated.
Other popular ideas about what cures a cold do not seem to have scientific backing. Many people think that taking vitamin C will prevent or reduce a cold, and while vitamin C is beneficial to the body in many ways, there is no indication that it can keep away cold infections or reduce the duration of a cold. Zinc also has been recommended as a cold treatment, but there is no proof for this idea, either. The most important thing is to keep your health generally good, take adequate amounts of all vitamins, wash your hands frequently, and keep your body hydrated.
COMMON COLD COMPLICATIONSOther illnesses can be mistaken for colds, and colds can develop into other illnesses. If you have only a sore throat and fever, but don’t have congestion or other symptoms, you may have strep throat or tonsillitis, and should see a doctor. If you have cold symptoms, but they are accompanied by other symptoms not typical of colds, such as facial pain or jaw or tooth pain, you could have a dental infection or a sinus infection, either of which can be treated with antibiotics.
There are some illnesses that are considered opportunistic, that is, they will infect your body while the cold has it weakened and do more damage than the cold would. Some of these opportunistic illnesses are bronchitis, croup, pneumonia, ear infections, or strep throat. For people who are already troubled by respiratory difficulties, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema, a cold can make breathing very difficult.
Common colds cost the United States’ economy nearly eight billion dollars a year in lost work time, when workers either had colds themselves or had to stay home with children who were suffering from colds. Americans spend almost three billion dollars a year on over the counter medicines to treat cold symptoms, and around four hundred million dollars a year on prescription medications for those symptoms. There is no cure for the common cold, but some of these losses in time and money could be reduced if people simply took the time to wash their hands.