COMMON COLD CAUSES
The common cold is a group of illnesses with similar symptoms caused by a number of viruses. Rhinoviruses (has more than 100 different strains or varieties) cause the greatest number of colds. A person can have a cold multiple times throughout his or her lifetime because of subsequent infection with the large number of other viruses or viral strains that can cause this illness. The average adult experiences two to three colds per year, while children average 8 to 12 colds per year.
Colds are primarily transmitted from person-to-person via hands. Less often, the virus can be transmitted by touching a surface, sneezing, or coughing.
Direct contact — cold virus typically is carried on the hands. The virus may remain alive on the skin and capable of infecting another person for at least two hours.
Infection from particles on surfaces — Some cold viruses can live on surfaces (such as a counter top, door handle, or phone) for several hours.
Breathing in viral particles — Droplets containing viruses can be breathed, coughed, or sneezed into the air by a person with a cold. The virus can be transmitted to others if another person is standing close (a few feet) and the droplet touches that person’s eye, nose, or mouth. Covering the mouth while coughing or sneezing reduces this risk.
Most cold viruses are not spread by saliva. Thus, kissing itself is not likely to transmit the common cold, but close direct contact can. Colds are not caused by cold climates or being exposed to cold air.
COMMON COLD SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
— The common cold usually causes nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing. A sore throat may be present on the first day but usually resolves quickly. If a cough occurs, it generally develops on about the fourth or fifth day of symptoms, typically when congestion and runny nose are resolving.
COMMON COLD COMPLICATIONS
— In most cases, colds do not cause serious illness or complications. Most colds last for three to seven days, although many people continue to have symptoms (coughing, sneezing, congestion) for up to two weeks.
Sinusitis is one of the more common complications of cold, which is usually caused by viruses and rarely (about 2 percent of the time) by bacteria. The signs and symptoms of viral and bacterial sinusitis can be similar. Having thick or yellow to green-colored nasal discharge does not mean that bacterial sinusitis has developed; discolored nasal discharge is a normal phase of the common cold.
Lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, may develop following a cold.
Infection of the middle ear, or otitis media, can accompany or follow a cold.
The influenza virus, which causes the flu, can also cause features similar to those of a cold. However, the flu usually causes other signs and symptoms (fever, body aches) and is more severe than a cold.
COMMON COLD TREATMENT
— Most treatments are aimed at relieving some of the symptoms of the cold, but do not shorten or cure the cold. Antibiotics are not useful for treating the common cold; antibiotics are only used to treat illnesses caused by bacteria, not viruses.
Cold symptoms usually resolve over time, even without any treatment.
Cold symptoms treatments
Runny nose and nasal congestion — Runny nose and congestion may improve with the use of nasal inhalers. Ipratropium bromide (Atrovent, available by prescription) may relieve runny nose and sneezing while cromolyn (NasalCrom, a non-prescription medicine) may relieve runny nose, cough, and sneezing. Medications that contain a combination of an antihistamine and a decongestant may also help nasal symptoms.
Products that contain decongestants alone (without an antihistamine) such as pseudoephedrine and oxymetazoline (a nasal spray also called Afrin) may also give temporary relief of nasal congestion. However, decongestant nasal sprays should never be used for more than two to three days; use for more than three days use can worsen congestion.
Saline nasal sprays can also be helpful to relieve runny nose and congestion.
Sore throat and headache — Sore throat and headache are best treated with a mild pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent such as ibuprofen(Advil) or naproxen (Motrin or Aleve). Gargling with salt water would help with sore throat as well.
Cough — Common cough medicine ingredients include guaifenesin and dextromethorphan; these are often combined with other medications in over-the-counter cold formulas. Dextromethorphan is the best medication for cough. Other cough medications such as guaifenesin have little benefit for cough.
Antibiotics — Antibiotics should not be used to treat an uncomplicated common cold. As noted above, colds are caused by viruses. Antibiotics treat bacterial, not viral infections.
Alternative treatments — A number of alternative products, including vitamin C and herbal products such as echinacea, are advertised to treat or prevent the common cold. While none of these treatments is likely to cause harm, none have been proven to be effective in clinical trials; their use is not recommended. Certain products, such as nasal gels that contain zinc (eg, Zicam), have been associated with a permanent loss of smell and thus are also not recommended.
— Hand washing . Hands should be wet with water and plain soap, and rubbed together for 15 to 30 seconds. Special attention should be paid to the fingernails, between the fingers, and the wrists. Hands should be rinsed thoroughly, and dried with a single-use towel.
Alcohol-based hand rubs are a good alternative for disinfecting hands if a sink is not available.
Hands should be washed before preparing food and eating and after coughing, blowing the nose, or sneezing.
In addition, tissues should be used to cover the mouth when sneezing or coughing. Sneezing/coughing into the sleeve of one’s clothing (at the inner elbow) is another means of containing sprays of saliva and secretions and does not contaminate the hands.