What is the common cold?
The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper airways including the nose, voice box, throat, windpipes and the lungs. There are more than two hundred viruses that can cause colds and are commonly known as rhinoviruses or the nose viruses. These viruses cause inflammation or swelling of the mucous membrane lining the airways. The symptoms of common cold include sneezing, a scratchy throat, a stuffy nose, coughing, etc.
What are the causes?
The cold virus is spread via air particles that are expelled while coughing or sneezing. It also spreads when someone with a cold rubs his eyes or nose and then touches an object such as a doorknob, towel, bed linen and other such commonly used articles. Colds are very contagious. The viruses are airborne and are transmitted when one sneezes or touches infected objects. Anyone can get a cold. Children are more likely to get a cold than adults because they are not immune to certain viruses that cause the cold.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms generally show up about two days after a person becomes infected. Early signs of a cold are a sore, scratchy throat, sneezing, and a runny nose. Other symptoms that may occur later are:
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Watering eyes
- Cough and congestion
- Sore throat
- Fever and muscle ache.
The symptoms generally last for 2 to 7 days and in some cases may last for weeks.
What is the diagnosis?
There is no specific test to diagnose common cold. The diagnosis is based on the symptoms reported and the physical examination made by the doctor.
What is the treatment?
There is no cure for the common cold but managing symptoms is the best that can be done for the cold, as there is no specific treatment. Antibiotics will not cure colds, as they are caused by viruses and not bacteria. A person with a cold should drink plenty of fluids and take rest. Cold remedies are almost as common as the common cold, and many are nearly as ancient. Some cold remedies include:
- Water and other fluids - drinking plenty of liquids can help. Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas, which make dehydration worse.
- Salt water - a saltwater gargle — 1/2 teaspoon salt in a glass of warm water — can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat.
- Saline nasal sprays - over-the-counter saline nasal sprays combat stuffiness and congestion. Unlike nasal decongestants, saline sprays don't lead to a rebound effect — a worsening of symptoms when the medication is discontinued — and most are safe and nonirritating, even for children.
- Soup - scientists have found that soup does seem to help relieve cold and flu symptoms in two ways. First, it acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of neutrophils — immune system cells that participate in the body's inflammatory response. Second, it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose, helping relieve congestion and limiting the amount of time viruses are in contact with the nose lining.
- Over-the-counter cold medications - nonprescription decongestants and pain relievers offer some symptom relief, but they won't prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side effects. If used for more than a few days, they can actually make symptoms worse. Keep in mind that acetaminophen can cause serious liver damage or liver failure if taken in high doses.
- Humidity - cold viruses thrive in dry conditions — another reason why colds are more common in winter. Parched air also dries the mucous membranes, causing a stuffy nose and scratchy throat. A humidifier can add moisture to your home.