What is a common cold?
Almost everyone has undergone a bout of common cold. It is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat and sinuses, and is mainly manifested in form of sneezing, runny or blocked nose, sore throat and cough. Common cold lasts for about a week in adults and around two weeks in young children.
A hundred different types of the Rhinoviruses (causal agent) exist in the world. Thus, while a person develops immunity against one virus, s/he may catch cold again later by another virus type. There is no specific medicine that treats the viral infection but affected persons can alleviate symptoms through certain measures.
What causes it?
Common cold is caused by a virus belonging to the Rhinovirus family (with over a 100 serotypes), which attack and inflame the upper respiratory tract, causing increased mucous production that result in the common cold symptoms.
An infected person is contagious till the time s/he shows symptoms. The virus is transmitted from one person to another in form of droplets in two ways:
- Direct contact – Through sneeze or cough by an infected person and breathed in by an uninfected person.
- Indirect contact – An uninfected person touches objects sneezed or touched by an infected person.
What are the symptoms of common cold?
The first symptom of common cold is a sore throat, which is soon followed by:
- Runny nose (clear nasal discharge), which become thicker over the next few days
An important differentiator of common cold from flu or other infection is the absence of fever. Fever with a mucous-laden cough signals a bacterial infection.
Visiting a doctor
Common cold is not worrisome and usually goes away on its own within a week in adults. Unless, the weakened immune system leads to bacterial infection, common cold is self-limiting. Adults should consult their general physician if symptoms do not improve.
In children and new borns, however, it is best to visit a children’s paediatrician.
Common cold does not have a treatment and the infection will limit itself after running its course. Antibiotics do not work against viruses. However, the symptoms of cold can be alleviated through certain over-the-counter medications like:
- Pain relievers
- Decongestant nasal spray, but in limited doses
- Cough syrup
Though over-the counter medications help relieve common cold symptoms, these are generally not advised for very young children due to side effects. Further, cough is the body’s natural defence mechanism for clearing the mucous out of the lungs. Here’s a list of methods to help make the patient comfortable during the common cold:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Drinking chicken soup – Though this has long been a home cure, studies now show that chicken soup has an anti-inflammatory action and relieves congestion by speeding the motion of mucous through the nose and reducing the contact time of viruses with the nasal wall lining.
- Getting adequate rest
- Soothing throat with salt-water gargles
“Cold, common,” NHS.uk, https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cold-common/Pages/Introduction.aspx
“Common Cold,” MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/basics/definition/con-20019062
“Cold remedies: What works, what doesn’t, what can’t hurt,”MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/in-depth/cold-remedies/art-20046403
“Common Cold Symptoms: What’s Normal, What’s Not,” WebMD.com, https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/common_-cold-symptoms