What is a cold and what causes it?
Most colds are caused by invisible droplets called rhinoviruses that are in the air you breathe or on things you touch. More than 100 different rhinoviruses can infiltrate the protective lining of the nose and throat, triggering an immune system reaction that can start the cold symptom response. Rhinoviruses can stay alive as droplets in the air or on surfaces and may be able to make a person sick for as long a 3 hours after someone who has a cold has coughed or sneezed.
Colds usually begin slowly, two to three days after infection with the virus. The first symptoms are typically a scratchy, sore throat, followed by sneezing and a runny nose. Colds typically last from 3 to 10 days. Temperature is usually normal or only slightly elevated. A mild cough can develop several days later.
What can I do to feel better?
No medicine can cure a cold. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses. Antibiotics should only be taken if needed for bacterial infections. You can help yourself feel better by letting your body rest and by treating your symptoms while your body fights off the virus. Some suggestions include:
- Rest and Hydration: Get extra rest and drink plenty of fluids, especially liquids such as water, fruit juices and soups.
- Stop Smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Symptoms Relief: Look for over –the counter medication with ingredients that address your needs:
- Fever or pain reducer: Take ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) 400 mg every 6 hours or acetominophen (Tylenol) 650 to 1000 mg every 6 hours as needed for fever or Pain. These medications work differently, so you can alternate one with the other every 3 hours if needed.
- Decongestant: Dries mucus, shrinks swollen nasal passages and helps decongest sinus openings (Sudafed).
- Expectorant: Loosens respiratory tract secretions in the throat and nose (guaifenesin).
- Antitussive: Cough suppressant (dextromethorphan). Discuss with your physician if you have a history or wheezing or asthma before taking any new medication.
- Antihistamine: Relieves allergy symptoms like itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and runny nose (Benadryl). These medications are better for allergy symptoms, and are questionable for colds.
- Drying nasal sprays: Topical nasal decongestant (Afrin). NOTE: Can be used safely for 3 to 5 days only. Do not use for chronic nasal allergies.
- Wetting Nasal Sprays: Moisten nasal passages and loosen mucus. Use as often as needed ( Ocean saline spray).
- Throat Lozenges / Sore Throat Sprays: May provide temporary relief. Remember that ibuprofen and acetominophen help pain in the throat as well as other parts of the body.
- Sleep with your head propped up on pillows: This helps with congestion and nighttime coughing from post-nasal drainage.
Can colds be prevented?
Many colds can be prevented by:
- Washing your hands often. You can pick up cold germs easily, even when shaking someone’s hand or touching doorknobs or handrails.
- Avoiding people with colds when possible
- Cleaning surfaces you touch with a germ-killing disinfectant.
- Not touching your nose, eyes or mouth. Germs can enter your body easily by these paths. Do not eat or drink after other people.
- Keep your immune system healthy by getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy foods, drinking 8 glasses of water daily and by not smoking.
When should I see a practitioner?
Most common colds do not require a visit to the health clinic. Sometime secondary bacterial infections such as ear infections, sinusitis or pneumonia may develop. These may require treatment with antibiotics. People with asthma or people who smoke may be especially prone to complications. Schedule an appointment to see the doctor or nurse practitioner if any of the following occurs:
- Getting worse and or not improving in 10 days.
- New earaches
- Persistent or worsening cough
- Sinus pain and pressure
- Trouble breathing or tightness in your chest
- Fever for more than 3 days
- Severe headache
- Severe weakness or dizziness