A scratchy throat and a few sneezes.
The day's just beginning, but already you know what's
in store for the next week or so. Check the tissue supply
- it's another cold.
You can expect to get from 2 to 4 colds
in any given year. Yet, as common as colds are, there's
still no known cure. Prevention remains your best defense.
Anatomy of a cold
More than 200 different viruses can
cause the common cold. Although the cold season generally
runs from early September through March or April, Cold
viruses are always around. It's just that exposure to
a virus is more likely during that time because you're
spending more time indoors and in closer contact with
"Contact" is the key to how
cold viruses spread. You may literally pick up a cold
through hand-to-hand contact with another person who
has a cold. Once the virus is on your hands it can easily
become your next cold if you inadvertently touch your
eyes, nose or mouth.
Cold can also be acquired by using shared
objects (such as telephone or towels) that are contaminated
with a virus. And they can be acquired by inhalaing
infectious particles that are briefly airborne following
a sneeze or cough.
How susceptible you are to a cold
virus depends on several factors :
Your genetic makeup
Whether you smoke
The intensity and duration of exposure
Whether you already have antibodies to the specific
Is it a cold or influenza?
Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Rare Typical, 102-104F,3 to4
days or more
Headache Rare Prominent
Cough Dry or productive Dry, can become severe
Fatigue,weakness Very mild Can last up up to 2 to 3
Extreme exhaustion Almost never Early and prominent
Aches, pains Slight Usual and often severe
Stuffy nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore throat Common Sometimes
Chest discomfort Mild Common
Pass the tissue
When a cold virus strikes, your upper
respiratory tract becomes inflamed. Cold symptoms generally
develop 2 or 3 days after you've picked up the virus.
Typical symptoms may include a runny nose, sneezing,
congestion in your nasal passages and sinus, membranes,
sore throat and cough.
Colds can last anywhere from 2 to 24
days, but most people recover in a week. During that
time, getting extra rest and drinking plenty of warn
liquids may help you feel a little more comfortable.
In addition, appropriate use of over-the-counter (OTC)
cold medications may provide temporary relief, although
these products aren't necessary to recover from a cold.
Although there are antiviral medications
to help treat influenza (flu), no antiviral medications
are on the market to treat colds. Antibiotics aren't
useful in treating a cold virus. They're helpful against
bacteria, but not viruses. Unnecessary use of them increases
the risk of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The hope that there's something but
here that will get rid of a cold accounts for alternative
treatment you may have heard about.
OTC remedies - it's a jungle out there
Drugstore Shelves are loaded with over-the-counter
(OTC) products to help you cope with the common cold.
These products won't shorten a cold, but when used appropriately
they may help relieve some of its symptoms:
Antihistamines (Such as Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton,
Tavist) - These can decrease nasal secretions and help
relieve sneezing and a runny nose. Antihistamines may
be most helpful when used early in a cold. However,
use them with care as they can make you drowsy.
Antihistamines can make urination more
difficult if you have an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic
hyperplasia). In addition, they shouldn't be used if
of you have certain kinds of glaucoma.
Decongestants (such as Neo-Synephrine,
Sudafed) - These relieve congestion and stuffiness by
constricting nasal blood vessels. Nasal sprays should
be used no more than 3 to 4 days, after which a "rebound"
effect is possible - congestion may actually become
Decongestants may increase blood pressure.
It's usually best to avoid using a decongestant if you
have heart disease or high blood pressure or if you
take beta blockers.
Cough medicines - There are two types.
Antitussives (suppressants) are products containing
dextromethorphan or codeine and its derivatives. They
reduce cough frequency for people with a persistent,
dry cough. Expectorants - products containing guaifenesin
(gwi-FEN-uh-sin) - loosen mucus in the chest and make
it easier to cough.
Pain relievers - Generally, acetaminophen
(Tylenol) is preferred for aches, pains and fever. Ibuprofen
or aspirin may be good choices, too, but may cause bleeding
problems if taken in high doses over a long period or
if you're also taking blood thinning drugs (and children
should avoid aspirin).
Cough/cold combinations - These products
are designed to relieve multiple cold symptoms and should
not be taken with other OTC medications. Generally,
it's best to avoid combination cold medications. And
instead use individual products when they'll have the
Talk with a pharmacist or your doctor
before combining various cold medications or taking
them with other prescription medications.
Among the possibilities that have been
tried and studied (to varying degrees) are:
Vitamin C - This vitamin is a good antioxidant,
so it's been suggested that adequate levels may help
strengthen resistance to viral infections and even act
as a mild antihistamine (which can decrease nasal secretions).
However, no good studies exist demonstrating that vitamin
C has much impact when it comes to colds. Nonetheless,
there's probably no harm in taking a daily vitamin C
supplement of up to 500 milligrams (mg)
Echinacea - This herb is thought to
stimulate the immune system. Some studies show that
Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida probably don't
prevent colds or influenza, but they may help shorten
their duration. Other studies question those results.
Echinacea, like other dietary and herbal
supplements, isn't subject in this country to the same
rigorous review standards as drugs are. Product purity
and potency are uncertain - "buyer beware"
is still the best attitude.
Talk with your doctor before you decide
to use this herb. Generally, Echinacea shouldn't be
used for more than 4 weeks at a time as overuse has
the potential to actually suppress your immune system.
Echinacea shouldn't be taken if you have diabetes, immune
system diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis and HIV
Zinc - Debate continues over the value
of zinc in reducing the severity and duration of a cold.
A study in 1996 created a lot of excitement when cold
systems disappeared a full 3 days earlier among study
participants who took zinc lozenges at the onset of
their cold. However, subsequent studies have had mixed
results, with some showing benefit and some not.
Although more research is needed, using
zinc to treat a cold isn't likely to harm most people.
However, before taking zinc, talk with your doctor.
People with stomach or duodenal ulcers shouldn't take
In addition, zinc shouldn't be taken
for more than a week or so as high doses (150mg/day
or more) over an extended time can weaken the body's
When to see the doctor
Generally, it's not necessary to see
your doctor when you have a cold. Sometimes, though,
a cold takes a turn for the worse and a secondary infection
develops, such as strep throat, pneumonia or a sinus
Call your doctor if you experience
any of the following :
A fever higher than 102 F that lasts
beyond the first few days of a cold
Ear, sinus, tooth or throat pain that is severe or persists
for 3 days rash
A cough lasting more than 2 weeks or that produces blood
You seem to be getting over your cold but then it comes
back or you start feeling worse
You should see a doctor immediately if you experience
problems (such as shortness of breath or wheezing),
chest pain or difficulty swallowing.
An ounce of prevention
Washing your hands with soap remains
the most effective way to avoid getting a cold. One
study indicates that washing your hands with regular
dish washing soap might be particularly effective against
viruses. In addition, keep unwashed hands off of your
face, particularly your eyes, nose and mouth.