Common cold: Causes, symptoms and Treatment at home
What is a common cold?
"The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). It's usually harmless, although it might not feel that way.
Many types of viruses can cause a common cold." Mayoclinic.org cited in Common Cold.
The difference between a cold and the flu?
The common cold and the flu may seem very similar at first. They are indeed both respiratory illnesses and can cause similar symptoms. However, different viruses cause these two conditions, and your symptoms will gradually help you differentiate between the two.
Both a cold and the flu share a few common symptoms. People with either illness often experience:
- a runny or stuffy nose
- body aches
- general fatigue.
As a rule, flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms.
Another distinct difference between the two is how serious they are. Colds rarely cause additional health conditions or problems. The flu, however, can lead to sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and sepsis.
To determine whether your symptoms are from a cold or from the flu, you need to see your doctor. Your doctor will run tests that can help determine what’s behind your symptoms.
*If your doctor diagnoses a cold, you’ll likely only need to treat your symptoms until the virus has had a chance to run its course. These treatments can include using over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of rest.
*If you have the flu, you may benefit from taking an OTC flu medicine early in the virus’ cycle. Rest and hydration are also very beneficial for people with the flu. Much like the common cold, the flu just needs time to work its way through your body.
The causes of common cold
More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the symptoms of the common cold. Some, such as the rhinoviruses, seldom produce serious illnesses.
Others, such as parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus, produce mild infections in adults but can precipitate severe lower respiratory infections in young children.
Rhinoviruses (from the Greek rhin, meaning "nose") cause an estimated 30 to 35 percent of all adult colds, and are most active in early fall, spring and summer. More than 110 distinct rhinovirus types have been identified. These agents grow best at temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius [about 91 degrees Fahrenheit (F)], the temperature of the human nasal mucosa.
Coronaviruses are believed to cause a large percentage of all adult colds. They induce colds primarily in the winter and early spring. Of the more than 30 isolated strains, three or four infect humans. The importance of coronaviruses as causative agents is hard to assess because, unlike rhinoviruses, they are difficult to grow in the laboratory.
Approximately 10 to 15 percent of adult colds are caused by viruses also responsible for other, more severe illnesses: adenoviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, orthomyxoviruses (including influenza A and B viruses), paramyxoviruses (including several parainfluenza viruses), respiratory syncytial virus and enteroviruses.
The causes of 30 to 50 percent of adult colds, presumed to be viral, remain unidentified. The same viruses that produce colds in adults appear to cause colds in children. The relative importance of various viruses in pediatric colds, however, is unclear because of the difficulty in isolating the precise cause of symptoms in studies of children with colds.
Does cold weather cause a cold?
Although many people are convinced that a cold results from exposure to cold weather, or from getting chilled or overheated, NIAID grantees have found that these conditions have little or no effect on the development or severity of a cold. Nor is susceptibility apparently related to factors such as exercise, diet, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. On the other hand, research suggests that psychological stress, allergic disorders affecting the nasal passages or pharynx (throat), and menstrual cycles may have an impact on a person's susceptibility to colds.
In the United States, most colds occur during the fall and winter. Beginning in late August or early September, the incidence of colds increases slowly for a few weeks and remains high until March or April, when it declines. The seasonal variation may relate to the opening of schools and to cold weather, which prompt people to spend more time indoors and increase the chances that viruses will spread from person to person.
Seasonal changes in relative humidity also may affect the prevalence of colds. The most common cold-causing viruses survive better when humidity is low—the colder months of the year. Cold weather also may make the nasal passages' lining drier and more vulnerable to viral infection.
Common cold's symptoms
Symptoms of the common cold usually begin two to three days after infection and often include nasal discharge, obstruction of nasal breathing, swelling of the sinus membranes, sneezing, sore throat, cough, and headache.
Fever is usually slight but can climb to 102° F in infants and young children. Cold symptoms can last from two to 14 days, but two-thirds of people recover in a week. If symptoms occur often or last much longer than two weeks, they may be the result of an allergy rather than a cold.
Colds occasionally can lead to secondary bacterial infections of the middle ear or sinuses, requiring treatment with antibiotics. High fever, significantly swollen glands, severe facial pain in the sinuses, and a cough that produces mucus, may indicate a complication or more serious illness requiring a doctor's attention.
|Nasal symptoms include: |
loss of smell or taste
watery nasal secretions
postnasal drip or drainage in the back of your throat
Head symptoms include:
swollen lymph nodes
Whole body symptoms include:
fatigue or general tiredness
difficulty breathing deeply
How Long Do Colds Last?
Cold symptoms usually start 2 or 3 days after a person has been exposed to the virus. People with colds are most contagious for the first 3 or 4 days after the symptoms begin and can be contagious for up to 3 weeks.
Although some colds can linger for as long as 2 weeks, most clear up within a week.
How can you keep from a common cold?
Tips for cold prevention:
Wash your hands. Old-fashioned soap and water is the best way to stop the spread of germs. Only use antibacterial gels and sprays as a last resort when you can’t get to a sink.
Take care of your gut. Eat plenty of bacteria-rich foods like yogurt, or take a daily probiotic supplement. Keeping your gut bacteria community healthy can help your overall health.
Avoid sick people. This is reason number one sick people shouldn’t come into work or school. It’s very easy to share germs in tight quarters like offices or classrooms. If you notice someone isn’t feeling well, go out of your way to avoid them. Be sure to wash your hands after coming into contact them.
Cover your cough. Likewise, if you’re feeling sick, don’t keep infecting people around you. Cover your cough with a tissue or cough and sneeze into your elbow so you don’t spray germs into your environment.
|Although some people recommend alternative treatments for colds (such as zinc and vitamin C in large doses, or herbal products such as echinacea), none of these is proven to prevent or effectively treat colds. Because herbal products can have negative side effects, lots of doctors don't recommend them.|
What is the treatment for the common cold at home?
There is no cure for the common cold. The common cold is a self-limiting illness that will resolve spontaneously with time and expectant management. Home remedies and medical treatments are directed at alleviating the symptoms associated with the common cold while the body fights off the infection.
Over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicines can't prevent a cold, but some people think these ease symptoms. They won't help you get better faster, though. And sometimes OTC cold medicines can cause stomach upset or make someone feel dizzy, tired, or unable to sleep. If your nose feels really stuffy, try saline (saltwater) drops to help clear it.
|Home remedies |
The most effective and common home remedies for a cold include gargling with saltwater, rest, and staying hydrated. Some research also shows that herbs like echinacea may be effective at reducing symptoms of a cold. These treatments don’t cure or treat a cold. Instead, they can just make symptoms less severe and easier to manage.
Home treatment for upper respiratory infections includes getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids. In older children and adults, common over-the-counter drugs such as throat lozenges, throat sprays, cough drops, and cough syrups may help relieve symptoms, though they will not prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold. Gargling with warm saltwater may help people with sore throats. Decongestant drugs such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or antihistamines may be used for nasal symptoms, while saline nasal sprays may also be beneficial. It is important to note that over-the-counter medications may cause undesirable side effects, therefore they must be taken with care and as directed
Most doctors recommend acetaminophen for aches, pains, and fever. If you have a cold, you should not take aspirin or any medicine that contains aspirin, unless your doctor says it's OK. Use of aspirin by teens with colds or other viral illness may increase the risk of developing Reye syndrome, a rare but serious condition that can be fatal. Pregnant women should discuss the safety of common over-the-counter medications with their pharmacist or health care professional.
The treatment for infants and small children with the common cold is supportive as well.
It is especially important to allow rest and encourage plenty of fluids in order to prevent dehydration. Nasal drops and bulb suctioning may be used to clear nasal mucus from the nasal passages in infants. Medicines such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be taken for pain or fever based on the package recommendations for age and weight. Do not use aspirin or aspirin-containing medications in children or teenagers because it has been associated with a rare, potentially fatal condition called Reye's syndrome. Finally, over-the-counter cough and cold medications for infants and young children are not recommended. Medication manufacturers now recommend that over-the-counter cough and cold drugs not be used in children younger than 4 years of age because of serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.
Common alternative treatments to prevent or treat the common cold, such as vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, and other herbal remedies, have had mixed results in studies evaluating their effectiveness. Therefore, discuss these treatment options with a health care professional.
Top foods you should eat if catch a common cold
When you’re sick you might not feel like eating at all, but your body still needs the energy food provides. The following foods may be extra helpful for your cold recovery:
Chicken noodle soup
The salty soup is a classic “treatment” for all kinds of illnesses. It’s especially great for colds. Warm liquids are good for helping open up your sinuses so you can breathe more easily, and the salt from the soup can ease irritated throat tissue.
Warm drinks like tea are great for colds. Add honey for a cough-busting boost. Slices of ginger can also reduce inflammation and ease congestion. You shouldn’t drink coffee, though. Caffeine can interfere with medicines, and it may increase your risk of dehydration.
Yogurts contain billions of healthy bacteria that can boost your gut health. Having a healthy microbiome in your gut can help your body fight any number of illnesses and conditions, including a cold.
Like hot tea, popsicles may help numb and ease the pain of a sore throat. Look for low-sugar varieties or make your own “smoothie” pop with yogurt, fruit, and natural juices.
The most important thing to remember when you have a cold is to stay hydrated. Drink water or warm tea regularly. Avoid caffeine and alcohol while you’re recovering from a cold. Both can make symptoms of a cold worse.
Colds are very minor, but they are inconvenient and can certainly be miserable. You can’t get a vaccine to prevent colds like you can the flu. But you can do a few key things during cold season to help you avoid picking up one of the viruses.