The common cold is typically not much more than a nuisance, but because there is no real cure, it's best to take preventative measures so that you don't have to deal with a runny nose, scratchy throat, and the like. On this page, we'll provide vital information about the common cold.
The Types of Common Cold Viruses
Take your pick: More than 200 viruses could be responsible for your cold. About 35 percent of those viruses belong to the rhinovirus family.
Cold Infection Information
You wake up with the sniffles and a mild headache, and by lunch your throat begins to hurt and your nose starts flowing. By the time you make it home for dinner, you have a low fever, a cough, and tissues stuffed up your nostrils. Your miserable situation is thanks to a friendly, neighborhood cold virus.
Cold viruses love the warm, moist environment of your nose and upper respiratory tract, which is where they grow and wreak their havoc. Cold viruses travel to the nasal passages by different routes. Some enter via airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and some are carried on hands and common objects, such as phones, drinking glasses, and toys.
Once you get the viral particles on your hands, all you need to do is touch your nose, mouth (which is part of your upper respiratory tract), or eyes (the eyes drain into the nasal passages), and the virus has found a new temporary home.
After you've been exposed to a cold virus, symptoms will show up in two or three days, and you should be over the worst of your sniffles and coughing in a week or two.
Most people will overcome a cold without complications, but the occasional cold sufferer might end up with a sinus infection or an ear infection -- both of which might require a round of antibiotics.
Cold season lasts from early fall to early spring and hits its peak during the cold, dry winter months. People spend most of their time indoors when it's cold, making it easy for viruses to jump from host to host.
Once you have a cold, you'll do well to follow Mom's instructions -- get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and eat some chicken soup (the steam helps your stuffy nose and chest). You can also treat your symptoms with over-the-counter cold medicines, but be aware these are not cures and will do nothing to shorten the duration of your cold.
Who's at Risk for a Cold?
Everyone is at risk of catching a cold. Adults get about two to four colds every year, and children get eight to ten annually. For Americans, that adds up to about two billion colds a year.
The good news is once you get one particular cold virus, you develop immunity to that strain for life. So by the time you hit 60, if you're in the norm, you'll average only one cold every year.
Defensive Measures Against the Common Cold
There is no cure for the common cold, but you can protect yourself from as many sneezes as possible by:
- Washing your hands. Your best protection against a cold virus is to wash your hands often with soap and water. Be extra vigilant with hand washing during cold season if you work with kids or if you are around someone with a cold, especially someone in your own household.
- Keeping a stash of gel. If you can't always get to a sink, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping some alcohol-based gel cleanser with you and using it often.
- Keeping your hands away from your face. Because cold viruses like to get into your body through your mouth, nose, and eyes, keeping your hands away from these body parts is essential to keeping colds at bay.
- Using your own stuff. Don't use a cold-sufferer's phone, keyboard, pen, drinking glass, or any other item where a cold virus can lie in wait.
- Doing some disinfecting. Viruses are hardy creatures that can live up to three hours on objects. Use a disinfectant that specifically targets cold viruses to clean common areas.
- Keeping that immune system humming. Eat right, exercise, and manage stress to keep your immune system at its best to help you fight off any cold bug.
- Avoiding the crowd. Because cold viruses are so contagious, you improve your chances of not getting one if you stay away from the pack.
- Being wary of popular "cures." There is no conclusive scientific evidence that echinacea, zinc, or vitamin C can cure a cold. In fact, taking too much of one of these can cause unwanted side effects, such as nausea.
The bird flu has been garnering increasing attention in recent years. To learn about this frightening virus, see the next page.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.