Dr Tendai Zuze Health Matters
As we approach winter, the common cold will become more and more of a problem. The common cold, by the way, is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract (your nose and throat).
It is usually harmless, although it may not feel that way. If it’s not a runny nose, sore throat and cough, it’s the watery eyes, sneezing and congestion, or maybe all of the above. In fact, because any one of more than 100 viruses can cause a common cold, signs and symptoms tend to vary greatly. Symptoms of a common cold usually appear about one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus.
These may include:
Runny or stuffy nose
Itchy or sore throat
Slight body aches or a mild headache
The discharge from your nose may become thicker and yellow or green in colour as a common cold runs its course.
What makes a cold different from other viral infections is that you generally won’t have a high fever. You’re also unlikely to experience significant fatigue from a common cold. In general, children are sicker with a common cold than adults are and often develop complications, such as ear infections. Your child doesn’t need to see the doctor for a routine common cold. But seek medical attention right away if your child has any of the following signs or symptoms:
Signs of dehydration, such as urinating less often than usual
A high temperature, above 39 degrees
Not drinking adequate fluids
Fever that lasts more than three days
Vomiting or abdominal pain
Although more than 100 viruses can cause a common cold, the rhinovirus is the most common culprit, and it is highly contagious. A cold virus enters your body through your mouth or nose. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks. But it also spreads by hand-to-hand contact with someone who has a cold or by using shared objects, such as utensils, towels, toys or telephones. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after such contact or exposure, you’re likely to “catch” a cold.
Cold viruses are almost always present in the environment. But the following factors can increase your chances of getting a cold:
Age. Infants and preschool children are especially susceptible to common colds because they haven’t yet developed resistance to most of the viruses that cause them. Immunity. As you age, you develop immunity to many of the viruses that cause common colds. You’ll have colds less frequently than you did as a child.
Time of year. Both children and adults are more susceptible to colds in winter.
Complications of the common cold include bacterial ear infections, (especially in children), wheezing in asthmatics, sinusitis and other secondary infections of the throat and chest which always need treatment by a doctor.
There’s no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics are of no use against cold viruses and are only used when there is a deserving complication. Over-the-counter cold preparations won’t cure a common cold or make it go away any sooner, and most have side effects.
Paracetamol or other ‘pain killers’ will help you feel better and bring down your temperature. Salt water or antiseptic gurgles will help relieve a sore throat. Cough and cold preparations might also offer some relief but these should not be used in children younger than two years old unless advised by a doctor.
You may not be able to cure your common cold, but you can make yourself as comfortable as possible. These tips may help:
Drink lots of fluids. Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water are all good choices. They help replace fluids lost during mucus production or fever. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can cause dehydration, and cigarette smoke, which can aggravate your symptoms.
Try chicken soup. Generations of parents have spooned chicken soup into their sick children’s mouths. Now scientists have put chicken soup to the test, discovering that it does seem to help relieve cold and flu symptoms in two ways. First, it acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the movement of immune system cells that help the body’s response to inflammation. Second, it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose, helping relieve congestion and limiting the time viruses are in contact with the nasal lining.
Get some rest. If possible, stay home from work if you have a fever or a bad cough, or are drowsy after the medications. This will give you a chance to rest as well as reduce the chances that you’ll infect others.
Adjust your room’s temperature and humidity. 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.
Soothe your throat. A salt water gargle — 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt dissolved 1 glass of warm water — can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat.
Use saline nasal drops. To help relieve nasal congestion, try saline nasal drops. You can buy these drops over-the-counter, and they’re effective, safe and non irritating, even for children.
Vitamin C. It appears that for the most part taking vitamin C won’t help the average person prevent colds. However, taking vitamin C at the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of symptoms.
Some common-sense precautions to slow the spread of cold viruses include:
Wash your hands. Clean your hands thoroughly and often, and teach your children the importance of hand washing.
Scrub your stuff. Keep kitchen and bathroom counter tops clean, especially when someone in your family has a common cold. Wash children’s toys periodically.
Use tissues. Always sneeze and cough into tissues. Discard used tissues right away, and then wash your hands carefully. Teach children to sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow when they don’t have a tissue. That way they cover their mouths without using their hands.
Don’t share. Don’t share drinking glasses or utensils with other family members. Use your own glass or disposable cups when you or someone else is sick.
Steer clear of colds. Avoid close, prolonged contact with anyone who has a cold.
Choose your child care centre wisely. Look for a child care setting with good hygiene practices and clear policies about keeping sick children at home.