Sharing is caring when it comes to our love, time, energy, and efforts. And many of our world’s most amazing advances—medical treatments, space voyages, technology—are the result of sharing wisdom, ideas, opinions, and resources. But when we are dealing with germs, I wish that sharing was simply off limits.
On average, young children catch the common cold 6-8 times a year and adults 2-4 times a year. Let’s take a look at what makes this condition so common and what we can do to decrease our risk of catching it, minimize our symptoms, and prevent spreading it to others.
What is the common cold? It describes a minor infection of the throat and nose by a virus. Symptoms include: runny nose, congestion, sneezing, scratchy throat, and a cough. In some cases people may develop a mild fever.
How does the common cold differ from the flu? While the flu causes the same symptoms as those with the common cold, it also attacks the entire body. This can manifest as a fever of 100oF or higher, headaches, body aches, chills, fatigue, and nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
How long does a cold typically last? On average, one week. In children, elderly people, and those with multiple medical issues, it may last longer.
How is a cold transmitted from one person to another? Viruses that cause the common cold are transmitted via respiratory droplets (secretions from a sneeze, runny nose, or a cough). They can gain access into our body through our eyes, nose, or mouth because they have a special type of skin—called a mucus membrane—that is different from the skin on the rest of our body.
As a result, someone who is sick can transmit a cold virus to us if our hands or fingers come in touch with their secretions (door knobs, phones, desk) and then we touch our mucus membranes (rubbing our eyes or nose or putting them in our mouths); we drink or use utensils after them; or their cough or sneeze lands on our mucus membranes.
How can I cut down on my risk of catching the common cold? At this time, there are no vaccines available. We must try to prevent the virus from entering our mucus membranes.
- Wash our hands frequently and always before eating or touching our eyes or nose
- Avoid touching our eyes or nose or putting our fingers in our mouths. They are fine on their own
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Do not eat or drink after others
I am sick. How can I decrease the chances of my loved ones getting my germs?
- Always cough, sneeze, or wipe a runny nose with a napkin or tissue (make sure to throw it away and wash our hands – or use a hand sanitizer – after)
- If we do not have a napkin or tissue available, cough or sneeze into our sleeve or elbow to cover our mouth.
- Disinfect surfaces
How do I treat the common cold? Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria; they do not work against viruses, and as a result, they DO NOT work against the common cold. It is up to our bodies to fight off the virus. In the meantime, there are a number of tips and tricks to manage those pesky symptoms and possibly get us back on the road to healthy, more quickly:
- Aches and pains can be treated with a class of drugs called NSAIDS (Ibuprofen, Advil, Aleve) or acetaminophen
- Congestion, nasal discharge, and post-nasal drip may be treated with decongestants and/or an antihistamine. Always discuss with our doctor or pharmacist if these medications are safe with other medications we are taking or conditions we have
- Drink plenty of fluids to help soften, and thereby, clear mucus
- Chicken soup may not only be good for our soul, but also our colds (When the broth is made from chicken bones, it is jam-packed with a number of vitamins and minerals that can stimulate our immune system. Additionally, the warmth of the soup can help reduce sinus and throat pain)
- Gargle with salt water – it washes away the mucus lining in our throat that protects the germs causing the sickness (once uncovered, the salt water can wash them away and kill them)
- Support our immune system by getting a good night’s sleep, decreasing stress, and increasing consumption of garlic, ginger, and foods filled with Vitamin C
What are some complications of a cold? Because the common cold can weaken our immune system, it can increase our risk for catching another germ. We may see bronchitis, or a sinus or ear infection.
They say that “A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold”—Ogden Nash. Let’s follow these tips and tricks to un-invite the common cold, or at least make it a less frequent visitor.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.