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Common Cold Tips
The common cold (also known as "acute nasopharyngitis") is a mild viral infectious disease of the nose and throat; the upper respiratory system. Symptoms include sneezing, sniffling, running/blocked nose (often these occur simultaneously, or in only one nostril); scratchy, sore, or phlegmy throat; coughing; headache; and tiredness. Colds typically last three to five days, with residual coughing lasting up to three weeks. As its name suggests, it is the most common of all human diseases, infecting subjects at an average rate of slightly over one infection per year per person. Infection rates greater than three infections per year per person are not uncommon in some populations. Children and their caretakers are at a higher risk, probably due to the high population density of schools and the fact that transmission to family members is highly efficient.
The common cold belongs to the upper respiratory tract infections. It is different from influenza, a more severe viral infection of the respiratory tract that shows the additional symptoms of rapidly rising fever, chills, and body and muscle aches. While the common cold itself is hardly life threatening, its complications, such as pneumonia, can very well be.
Last Updated - 6th January 2006
Cold occur throughout the year but are most common in late winter and early spring. There is no cure for the common cold. If you cath a cold, you must treat the symptoms as using amouthwash will not prevent a cold nor will antibiotics cure a cold. A cold usually lasts about 1 to 2 weeks is is brought on by any of a number of viruses. If a person seems to have a cold all of the time, or if symptoms last much longer than 2 weeks, suspect allergies or sinusitis.
- Runny nose
- Red eyes
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- General body aches
The best way to avoid a cold is to avoid close contact with existing sufferers, to wash hands thoroughly and regularly, and to avoid touching the face. Anti-bacterial soaps have no effect on the cold virus - it is the mechanical action of hand washing that removes the virus particles.
Because of the large variety of viruses causing the common cold, vaccination is impractical.
- Eat well.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
- Try to avoid people with colds.
- Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth but cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands often.
- Humidify your bedrooms or your whole house, if possible.
- Do not smoke.
- Home treatment for a cold will help relieve symptoms and prevent complications.
There is no cure for the common cold, i.e. there is no treatment that directly fights the virus. Only the body's immune system can effectively destroy the invader. A cold may be composed of several million viral particles, and typically within a few days the body begins mass producing a better tailored antibody that can prevent the virus from infecting cells, as well as white blood cells which destroy the virus through phagocytosis and destroy infected cells to prevent further viral replication. Furthermore the duration of infection is on the order of a few days to one week so at most a "cure" could hope to reduce the duration by only a few days.
Available treatments therefore focus on relieving the symptoms.
Common treatments include: analgesics such as aspirin or acetaminophen, as well as localised versions targeting the throat (often delivered in lozenge form), nasal decongestants which reduce the inflammation in the nasal passages by constricting local blood vessels, cough suppressants (which work to suppress the cough reflex of the brain or by diluting the mucus in the lungs), and first-generation anti-histamines such as brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, and clemastine (which reduce mucus gland secretion and thus combat blocked/runny noses but also may make the user drowsy). Second generation anti-histamines do not have a useful effect on colds.
- Get extra rest.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
- Hot water, herbal tea, chicken or tomato soup will help relieve congestion.
- Take aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve aches remembering not to give aspirin to children.
- Humidify your bedroom.
- Take hot showers to relieve nasal stuffiness and headaches due to congestion.
- If you see streaks of mucus in the back of your throat (postnasal drip), gargle with warm water to prevent a sore throat.
- Do not use handkerchiefs, use disposable tissues.
- If your nose is red and raw from tissues, put a dab of petroleum jelly on the sore area.
- Avoid cold remedies that contain a combination of drugs to treat many different symptoms. Treat each symptom separately. Take a decongestant for stuffiness, a cough medicine for a cough and so on.
- Do not use nasal decongestant sprays for more than 3 days in a row as it may lead to a "rebound" effect causing mucous membranes to become swollen.
- Avoid antihistamines as they are not an effective treatment for colds.
- Elevate your head with extra pillows to ease a dry cough.
- Do not take anyone else's prescription cough medication.
- Avoid exposure to dust, smaoke and other irritants.
When To Call A Physician (in some cases, a bacterial infection follows a viral infection and can be treated with antibiotics)
- If you develop facial pain.
- Fever of 104 or higher that does not go down after 2 hours of home treatment.
- Fever of 102 or higher for 2 full days.
- Fever of 101 or higher for 3 full days.
- Fever of 100 or higher for 4 full days.
- Fever higher than 101 with shaking chills and a productive cough.
- Labored, shallow, rapid breathing with shortness of breath.
- Sputum is yellow, green, rust-colored or bloody.
- Nasal discharge changes from clear to colored after 5 to 7 days of a cold.
- If nasal discharge is colored from the start of a cold and lasts longer than 7 days
- Cough that lingers more than 7 to 10 days after other symptoms have cleared.
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