Cold is an infection of the upper part of the respiratory tract, caused by different viruses. Nearly 200 types of cold-causing viruses are present in nature. It is the most common illness and is a leading cause of missed days at school and work in major parts of the world. Infants and young children who have a poorly developed immune system are more likely to catch a common cold.
The cold weather during winters is by itself not a cause for catching cold. It is the humidity levels which might facilitate the survival and growth of the viruses. Also, the close proximity and staying indoors during winter is another possible reason for the higher incidence during this season.
Modes that spreads the infection:
Common cold is highly contagious and can spread from the infected person to a fresh host. When the infected person speaks or coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the causative viruses are released into the air. Inhalation of these airborne droplets leads to the infection of a healthy person. You may also pick the virus from the contaminated surfaces used by the virus infected person. Certain viruses can survive for few hours before they find a new host.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a common cold appear after 1 to 3 days of exposure to the causative virus. They may vary from person to person and virus, but commonly include:
Runny nose: Cold begins with the symptom of a runny nose with a transparent and clear nasal discharge. Runny nose makes the person very uncomfortable and fussy. During the later stages of cold, it is common to have thick, yellow or green colored discharge from the nose. However, it is not a sign of bacterial infection.
Blocked nose: Stuffy nose is due to the excessive mucus secretion into the nasal chambers to trap the virus.
Sneezing: As the virus irritates the nose and the throat, it leads to sneezing.
Sore throat: A sore throat is due to the nasal discharge which runs down the nose to the throat, or it can be due to the inflamed throat tissue. This can make you feel itchy or scratchy, and you may feel difficulty in swallowing the food.
Cough: Either a dry cough or a wet cough (with mucus) may be present with the other symptoms. It is the last symptom which occurs when the cold is almost going away and may last for 1-2 weeks.
Headache and body ache: Some persons can have a mild headache and body pains. However, this is less common in cold.
Fever: A low-grade fever can be present which indicates the body’s defense mechanism to fight the infection. Cold viruses may not survive at high body temperatures.
What are the home remedies for a cold?
Home remedies help to alleviate the symptoms while our body fights the infection.
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take adequate rest.
- Drinking soups or other warm drinks can help to relieve congestion
- Keep your room warm and humidify the air
- Gargle with warm saltwater to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat.
When should you consult a doctor?
The common cold goes away by itself or with certain home remedies or over-the-counter medications (OTC drugs). However, you may have to seek medical attention during certain situations which vary with adults and children.
- If fever is higher than 101.3o F (i.e. 38.5o C)
- If the fever lasts for longer than 5 days or returns after a fever-free period
- If chest pain, shortness of breath and/or wheezing, abdominal pain, vomiting, confusion, neck stiffness are present
- If the sore throat, headache or sinus pain are severe
- If fever is higher than 100.4oF (i.e. 38oC) in newborns below 12 weeks
- If the fever lasts for longer than 2 days or returns after a fever-free period
- If symptoms worsen with time
- If a severe headache or a cough is present
- If there is a lack of appetite, extreme fussiness, unusual drowsiness, ear pain, and wheezing
What is the treatment?
Common cold which is not self-limited has to be treated immediately to prevent complications such as secondary infections or asthma, from arising in your body. There is no cure for cold but treatment involves the management of symptoms. As it is caused by viruses, antibiotics are not helpful to cure the infection.
- Pain relievers may be given for a short course to relieve a headache and sore throat without causing side effects.
- Nasal decongestant sprays are given for a maximum of 5 days for adults to relieve nasal stuffiness. Using the sprays for more than 5 days can lead to rebound symptoms. These sprays are not for use in children.
- Cough syrups may be taken by the adults but should be avoided for children younger than 4 years.
Can common cold be prevented?
By taking certain measures, you can reduce the number of attacks of common cold in a year. So far there is no vaccine to prevent cold.
- Prevent contact with the infected person
- Wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectants to wash off the viruses, especially after touching the infected surfaces.
- Avoid sharing personal things such as towels, utensils, etc.
- Encourage individuals to cover their nose while sneezing or coughing. You may also suggest them to use disposable items till they get better.
Cold is the most common disease which can spread very easily, so make sure you take proper care and follow the aforesaid remedies for faster recovery.