The Common Cold: What You Can Do
Cold season is here! We are plagued with runny noses and congested heads. Adults average 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more. Unable to go to work and school, we are in constant search of remedies that will alleviate our many symptoms. But what to choose? Which will make us feel better as quickly as possible?
Colds are minor infections of the nose and throat. They are caused by more than 200 different kinds of viruses. Rhinovirus. the most common cause, accounts for 10% to 40% of colds. Other common cold viruses include coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). A cold may last for about one week, but some colds last longer, especially in children, the elderly and those in poor health.
Colds are highly contagious. They most often spread when droplets of fluid that contain a cold virus are transferred by touch or are inhaled. You can get a cold by touching your eyes or nose after you touch surfaces with cold germs on them, or by breathing in droplets when around an infected person
Symptoms of the common cold include:
· Runny nose
· Head and chest congestion
· Weakened senses of taste and smell
· Scratchy or sore throat
· Body aches
Infants and young children are more likely than adults and teens to develop a fever.
Treatment options fall into 2 categories:
Because colds are caused by viruses, there is no cure for them. (Antibiotics are only effective for bacterial infections.) They have to run their course.
· Make yourself as comfortable as possible
· Drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water. This will help keep the lining of the nose and throat moist. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you
· Chicken soup and other warm fluids can be soothing and can loosen congestion
· Rest. Stay home from work or school if you have a fever or a bad cough, or are drowsy after taking medications
· Keep your room warm, but not overheated. If the air is dry, a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer can moisten the air and help ease congestion and coughing
· Sooth your throat. A saltwater gargle (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in a 4–8 ounce glass of warm water) can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat
· Use saline nasal drops, which can help to relieve nasal congestion
· In infants, gently suction the nostrils with a bulb syringe (insert the bulb syringe about 1/4 to 1/2 inch) after applying saline drops
· Try ice chips, sore throat sprays, lozenges, or hard candy. Don't give lozenges or hard candy to children younger than 3 to 4 years old because they can choke on them
· Sinus rinsing devices (neti-pots): Always use water that is filtered or treated. Using tap water can cause sinus infections
Medication: Over-the-counter medicines may help ease your symptoms, but they will not make your cold go away any faster. They should be used as soon as you feel a cold coming on and for as short of time as possible
Nose blowing creates high pressure in the nose and propels nasal fluid into the sinuses, which can be a cause of sinus disease. Early continuous treatment reduces the frequency of sneezing and the amount of nasal secretions, thus reducing the need for nose blowing.
Take medications only as directed. Some cold remedies contain multiple ingredients. Read the labels of cold medications you take to make sure you're not taking too much of any medication.
· People with certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, should check with a doctor or pharmacist before taking a new cough or cold medicine
· Pregnant women should check with their healthcare provider before taking any medication
· Over-the-counter cold and cough medications are not recommended for children under age 6. Talk to your provider before giving your child OTC cold medicine, which can have serious side effects
Decongestants: Helps unclog a stuffy nose. These come in pill and nose spray preparations. (Examples are the generic names, which can be found on the label under ‘Active Ingredients’.)
· Decongestant nasal sprays. Adults can use decongestant drops or sprays for up to 4 days. If used longer, they can cause rebound symptoms. (Once you stopped using them, the nasal congestion worsens. People can become addicted to decongestant nasal sprays because of this.) Children younger than six shouldn't use them.
Side effects include nosebleeds, agitation, insomnia, nasal burning, throat irritation, and worsened high blood pressure in patients with pre-existing hypertension.
Examples: oxymetazoline (Afrin); phenylephrine ((Neo-Synephrine)
· Decongestant pills
Examples: phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed; the sale of pseudoephedrine is restricted in the U.S. as it can be used to make meth). Side effects include a rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and nervous stimulation.
Cough suppressants help relieve coughs. Coughing is your body's way of getting mucus out of your lungs, so use cough syrups only when your cough becomes too painful.
Examples: dextromethorphan. Guaifenesin, commonly found in cough medications, helps to thin and loosen the mucus so it is easier to bring up.
Antihistamines help stop a runny nose, post-nasal drainage, and sneezing.
· First generation antihistamines are shown to be more effective than the second generation antihistamines in reducing the sneezing and running nose. The major side effect is sedation. They may cause difficulty in urination in men who have an enlarged prostate gland and make glaucoma worse in people who have this disease. Examples: chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton); diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
· Second generation antihistamine examples: loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), fexofenadine (Allegra), certirizine (Zyrtec), levocetirizine (Xyzal)
Pain relievers can help ease fever, sore throat, headaches, and minor aches.
· Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): The major side effect is stomach irritation. Examples: ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin); naproxen (Aleve)
· Aspirin: Children or teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. (It has been linked to Reye's Syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition in children)
· Acetominophen (Tylenol ): For children 6 months or younger, give only acetaminophen
Prevention: There is no vaccine to protect you against the common cold.
· Wash your hands often with soap and water
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
· Stay away from people who are sick
If you have a cold:
· Stay at home while you are sick
· Avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands
· Move away from people before coughing or sneezing
· Cough and sneeze into a tissue then throw it away, or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve, completely covering your mouth and nose
· Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
· Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and objects such as toys and doorknobs
· Covering your mouth and nose
When to see your medical provider:
· High fever (above 103°F), or a fever that lasts for more than 3 days
· Symptoms that last for more than 10 days
· Trouble breathing, fast breathing, or wheezing
· Bluish skin color
· Earache or drainage from the ear
· Changes in mental state (such as not waking up, irritability, or seizures)
· Flu-like symptoms that improve, but return with a fever and a worse cough
· Vomiting or abdominal pain
· A high, prolonged fever (above 102°F) with fatigue and body aches
· Symptoms that last for more than 10 days or get worse instead of better
· Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
· Pain or pressure in the chest
· Fainting or feeling like you are about to faint
· Confusion or disorientation
· Severe or persistent vomiting
· Severe sinus pain in your face or forehead
· Very swollen glands in the neck or jaw
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, approaches that have shown some promise for cold symptoms include:
· Oral zinc products: Zinc products used in the nose (such as nasal gels and swabs) have been linked to a long-lasting or even permanent loss of the sense of smell
· Rinsing the nose and sinuses (with a neti-pot or other device)
· Honey, as a night-time cough remedy for children
· Vitamin C, for people under severe physical stress
Approaches for which the evidence is conflicting, inadequate, or mostly negative for cold symptoms include
· Vitamin C, for most people
· American ginseng