Colds are viral, not bacterial infections of the upper respiratory tract.
Symptoms can include:
- a scratchy, sore throat
- nasal discharge, which is watery at first, then thick
- low-grade fever <100°F
- an overall sick feeling.
Colds are highly contagious. They are spread by touching contaminated surfaces, coughing, and sneezing.
Some people are more prone to colds than others. A child in preschool may “catch” as many as four to eight colds per year. Generally, there is an increased frequency of colds during the fall and winter months because of closer, indoor contact with other people.
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Cause of Colds
Over 200 different viruses can cause a cold. Some of the common viruses include rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), coronavirus, parainfluenza, and influenza.
The course of a Cold
A cold usually runs its course without complications in seven to ten days. If you have cold symptoms lasting longer than two weeks, report this to your health care provider. Also, report symptoms if nasal discharge is yellow or green after 10 days or has an odor. This may mean you have a sinus infection and could require antibiotics.
Because there is no cure for the common cold, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms.
- Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
- Nasal washes with a saline solution may be helpful for nasal congestion.
- Oral (tablet or syrup) decongestants may also relieve nasal symptoms.
- Aspirin is not recommended for children under 18 and for people with asthma. Ask your health care provider about taking acetaminophen for relieving pain and fever.
- Antibiotics and vitamin C are not helpful in relieving symptoms of the common cold. Using antibiotics to treat common colds is one of the reasons that common antibiotics are no longer beneficial when they are necessary.
There are a number of ways to prevent the spread of colds including:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissues in the trash after you use them.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. In fact, good handwashing may be the single most effective way to reduce the spread of infections! Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay home if you are sick. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.