What Is The Common Cold: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis & Prevention

common-coldAlso known as viral rhinitis, the ordinary cold is among the most common infections among humans. It is primarily an upper respiratory track infection that can be caused by several virus families. The virus family that is responsible for up to 40 percent of colds is called rhino-virus and it has over 100 distinct virus types.

Since common cold symptoms can be caused by so many viruses, it has not been possible to develop a simple cure for the infection. The common cold should not be mistaken for influenza, which can make you ill for much longer, has more severe symptoms, and can result in hospitalization or lead to serious health problems including pneumonia.

Common Cold Symptoms

Typical symptoms associated with common cold are well known to both doctors and patients. Over half of patients start by developing a sore throat followed by congestion in the sinuses and the nose, sneezing and a runny nose. These symptoms are usually accompanied by fever, cough, and hoarseness which may outlast them sometimes by a few weeks. High fevers, are however, rare from common cold alone.

Other less common symptoms of common cold include:

  • Headache
  • Decreased appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Post-nasal drip

common-cold-sinusThe symptoms will however, last longer if you have developed a viral bronchitis concomitantly. This happens when the same virus infects both your upper airways and the inner airways. Apart from bronchitis the congestion caused by the common cold can create conditions for other illness, with bacterial sinus infections (sinusitis) being the most common. Patients with respiratory track complications such as asthma may experience more severe symptoms lasting for a month or even longer.

 Common Cold Prognosis

Patients are at their most infectious during the first 24 hours but they continue to remain infectious for the duration of the symptoms. As the cold progresses, the discharge from your nose will initially be runnier but will thicken and may even turn yellow. However, this is quite normal and there is rarely any need for antibiotics.

In most cases, the common cold goes away within five to ten days although a few symptoms can last for as long as three weeks among certain individuals. There are over one billion cases of colds in America every year but complications are rarely reported.

Common Cold Prevention

Transmission of the common cold commonly occurs when viruses that cause the disease from the mouth, nose or sneezed or coughed as droplets by an infected individual come into direct contact with a healthy individual. Viruses passed from the hand of one individual to another’s hand can also result in transmission if the second person proceed to rub or touch his/her nose or eyes, where a new infection takes root. One can also get infected by coming into contact with surfaces recently touched by a infected individual.

Due to the ease with which the common cold gets transmitted, nearly half the family members, flatmates or roommates also end up getting infected. There is also a high rate of transmission of colds in day care facilities and schools.

To lower your chances of getting infected:

  • Hand washing: Adults and children should wash their hands after nose wiping, using the bathroom, preparing food, eating, etc.
  • Keep your environment sterile – your priority should be to disinfect commonly touched surfaces such as door knobs, sink handles, sleeping matters, etc with an EPA approved disinfectant.
  • Stop the spread of germs by using instant had sanitizers.
  • Replace cloth towels with paper towels when using public facilities.
  • Drink plenty of fluid to keep your immune system working at the optimal level.
  • Consume a healthy diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals to optimize your immune health.
  • Avoid using antibiotics unless they are really needed.
  • Eat yogurts containing “active cultures” as they may help prevent the common cold.

 Common Cold Treatment

Although it is possible for you to improve the symptoms of common cold using a variety of medical therapies, they do not cure, shorten of prevent the illness. It is advised to try and keep yourself comfortable by get as mush rest as possibly, drink lots of fluids and treat the symptoms. Some of the common ways to treat the symptoms of cold are:-

  • Gargle warm salt water to soothe sore throat
  • Inhaling steam with or without essential oils and herbal aromas can temporarily relieve nasal congestion
  • OTC remedies containing decongestants help relive congestion and stop secretions. They can also be used to stop cough if I is triggered by mucus in the throat.
  • Antihistamines are used to relive symptoms of watery eyes and runny nose.
  • According to some studies, zinc lozenges can shorten the duration of common cold symptoms.

Antibiotics should not be used to treat common cold and its symptoms.

When to call your physician

Some cases of common cold can result in the development of complications such as bacterial infections of the lungs, sinuses or middle ear. If you develop ear pain, tooth ache, high fevers, breathing difficulties, severe pain over the sinuses, then it is advised to consult your physician to ascertain that you have not contracted a more serious illness such as bacterial sinusitis, a middle ear infection, pneumonia or bronchitis.

References:

http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/understanding-common-cold-treatment

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cold-remedies/ID00036

http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/commoncold/Pages/treatment.aspx

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