What is a cold?
The common cold bedevils our winters. The culprit is usually a viral infection that causes inflammation of your nose, throat, sinuses and larynx. It is often called an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) to distinguish it from more serious infections of the lower respiratory tract.
Who gets colds?
We all do, but they are more prevalent in winter because we herd together indoors with other infected people, who pass on the virus. Children get up to five colds a year and adults get two or three. Kids are walking reservoirs of viruses, and adults who are in contact with kids, such as teachers, are more prone to URTIs.
How can I avoid getting one?
Live like a hermit in a well-sealed cave. If that’s not an option, there’s nothing you can do. It’s up to the people with colds to take action. They should cover their mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, wash their hands, throw snotty tissues into a closed bin, and stay off work or school until they have got their streaming nose under control.
Will supplements protect me?
Maybe. Zinc supplements may help to prevent colds. Garlic, homeopathy, vitamins C and D and echinacea won’t harm you, but there is no good evidence that they protect you either. There is some positive, but poor-quality evidence that probiotics, the “good” bacteria in the gut, can reduce the incidence, duration, severity and impact of colds.
What should I do if I get a cold?
Most people will get over a cold within a few days. The general advice is to rest, drink adequate fluids and try not to spread it to others.
Wash your hands often: Washing your hands frequently helps prevent the spread of infection. Use plain soap and water, making sure to pay attention to spaces between fingers, and under the fingernails. Rinse and dry with a clean towel. Teach your children to wash their hands properly. If soap and water is unavailable, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an alternative.Make sure to wash hands after sneezing or coughing, and before handling food.
Avoid touching your face. Viruses can enter your body through the areas around your nose, mouth, and eyes. It is important to avoid touching your face if you are exposed to a person with a cold, especially if you have not washed your hands.
Don’t smoke: Smoking tobacco products irritates and damages the throat and lungs, and can worsen cold symptoms – which already include a sore throat and cough. Even secondhand smoke can cause irritation. A recent study also found the anti-viral response in smokers may become hyperactive, making them less able to fight off infection.
Use disposable items if a family member is infected
Keep household surfaces clean.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Is a cold vaccine on the way?
No. Vaccines boost the immune system against particular viruses. But you need to know which viruses to target. And common colds can be caused by a wide range; most are from a family called rhinoviruses, but others such as coronavirus and influenza may be responsible.
Will there be a cure for colds in my lifetime?
Probably not. There has been some enthusiasm for the antiviral drug, interferon, delivered as a nasal spray. In one trial, it reduced symptoms such as cough, runny nose and feeling ill, but the participants took other drugs (antihistamines and ibuprofen) at the same time. Interferon is expensive and can itself cause flu-like symptoms, so it may be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. A more likely candidate is a spray that coats the lining of the nose with a gel to stop viral particles getting past your nostrils.
Why can’t I have antibiotics?
Colds are usually caused by viruses, and antibiotics don’t kill viruses. Occasionally, bacteria that live in the respiratory tract are found in people with colds, but eradicating them with antibiotics won’t speed up your recovery and isn’t necessary. Rarely, colds develop into ear infections, severe sinusitis or pneumonia, and then antibiotics are needed. Symptoms suggesting a serious complication would be high fever, cough with green sputum, earache or facial pain.
When to see a doctor
• Fever of 103 F (39.4 C) or higher
• Fever accompanied by sweating, chills and a cough with colored phlegm
• Significantly swollen glands
• Severe sinus pain
For children — in general, children are sicker with a common cold than adults are and often develop complications, such as ear infections. Your child doesn’t need to see the doctor for a routine common cold. But seek medical attention right away if your child has any of the following signs or symptoms:
• Fever of 100.4 F (38 C) in newborns up to 12 weeks
• Fever that rises repeatedly above 104 F (40 C)in a child of any age
• Not drinking adequate fluids
• Vomiting or abdominal pain
• Unusual sleepiness
• Severe headache
• Stiff neck
• Difficulty breathing
• Persistent crying
• Ear pain
• Persistent cough
References: The Guardian / web med/ myoclinic