There are millions of people who suffer from the common cold every day. Approximately 200 types of viruses can lead to it. Everyone, young and old, can be affected. In most cases, symptoms get better without medical treatment in about one week's time. Not paying attention to your body when it is crying out for help, however, can cause symptoms to worsen. Discover what causes the common cold, what its symptoms are, and how you can treat and prevent it.
What is the common cold?
The common cold is an infectious disease that spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes around other people, who then breathe in the virus particles from airborne droplets dispersed into the air by the sick individual. The viruses can be contracted through direct contact with an infected person or by indirect contact i.e. touching a contaminated surface. Viruses that cause the common cold move very quickly through the air. They can travel up to 6 metres in one hour.
The common cold spreads very easily because the cold virus can live on common surfaces for up to three hours after being deposited there by an infected person. If these common surfaces are touched, the virus can then enter another person's system via their respiratory channels, such as mouth or nose. This means that everyone in a room where a sick individual has been could easily catch the common cold, especially if they have a weak immune system.
Symptoms of the common cold
It can be rather challenging to tell the difference between a common cold and a flu since both exhibit similar symptoms. However, the flu is more dangerous than colds as it could lead to serious respiratory infections, if not death.
The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection that usually lasts for a couple of days to a week. Common symptoms of the common cold include:
- Mild headache
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
The common cold develops gradually and peaks between two days and four days after the onset of symptoms. Other cold symptoms may include muscle aches, fatigue, stomach pain and ear infections. The patient may also have mild fever and minor congestion in the nose. Note that not everyone experiences all of the cold symptoms of the common cold. Immunocompromised individuals are more likely to experience severe symptoms than relatively healthy people.
Causes of the common cold
The common cold is caused by a variety of cold viruses, including rhinoviruses or coronaviruses. Flu viruses, such as the influenza virus, are never responsible. Different strains of influenza cause flu symptoms, such as chest pain and fever, from which serious bacterial infections can arise, leading to a number of serious health complications or secondary infection, such as lung disease, kidney failure, heart disease, pulmonary disease or airway epithelial damage.
The common cold spreads through inhalation of airborne droplets from an infected person's sneeze or cough, direct contact with the nasal secretions of an infected person, or touching surfaces that had been contaminated by the virus and then touching one's eyes, nose or mouth.
Treatment options for the common cold
There is no cure for the common cold besides getting plenty of rest to allow your body to recuperate. In order to feel better, patients are recommended these effective remedies:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- For coughs, avoid smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages
- Avoid caffeine as it causes dehydration
- Use vaporizers or humidifiers to moisten the air in your home or bedroom
- Take a bowl of warm soup to soothe dry, irritated throat
- Ease congestion with steam inhalation or nasal sprays
- Herbal remedies like garlic, elderberry extracts and ginseng, which have antiviral qualities, are other natural remedies to treat common cold symptoms
Your doctor may also prescribe cold medications, such as cough medicine, depending on your symptoms and how much discomfort they are causing you. Antiviral medications are commonly used in the medical care of the common cold. These drugs work by killing bacteria and microbes associated with the common cold.
Antihistamine is another over-the-counter medication that is used to relieve common cold symptoms. Other forms of treatment include decongestants, which shrink the blood vessels in the nasal area to make breathing easier, as well as pain relievers for sore throat.
However, conventional drugs used in the treatment of the common cold may cause side effects such as nausea, dizziness or sleepiness. Sick people who opt for medication must ensure that they read about the common side effects of the medicine before beginning its course.
Prevention from catching a common cold
Because the viruses that are responsible for spreading the common cold are always around, there is no other way you can protect yourself from the viral infection than by observing proper hygiene practices. Doing the following is way better than any cold medicine available out there:
- Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water to prevent the spread of infection
- Cover your mouth while coughing or sneezing
- Make sure to clean surfaces at home and at work, making sure to disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, handrails, etc.
- Avoid contact with people who are suspected to have the cold virus
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
Because the common cold can be easily transmitted from person to person, it pays to learn how to prevent the spread of infection all year round. The spread of illness isn't just restricted to the cold months; it can occur at any time of the year. That said, it's better to be prepared than sorry.Originally published on Dec 03, 2021