The Common Cold
The common cold places a heavy burden on society, accounting for approximately 40% of time taken off work and millions of days of school missed by children each year. The common cold is a self-limited contagious illness that can be caused by a number of different types of viruses. The common cold is medically referred to as a viral upper respiratory tract infection. Symptoms of the common cold may include cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing. Because so many different viruses can cause a cold and because new cold viruses constantly develop, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. For this reason, colds are a frequent and recurring problem.
Most colds are caused by Rhino-Viruses that are in invisible droplets in the air we breathe or on things we touch. More than 100 different rhino-viruses can infiltrate the protective lining of the nose and throat, triggering an immune system reaction that can cause a throat sore and headache, and make it hard to breathe through the nose. The common cold is spread either by direct contact with infected secretions from contaminated surfaces or by inhaling the airborne virus after individuals sneeze or cough. The common cold is the most frequently occurring illness in the world. There is no evidence that you can get a cold from exposure to cold weather or from getting chilled or overheated.
There is also no evidence that your chances of getting a cold are related to factors such as exercise, diet, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. On the other hand, research suggests that psychological stress and allergic diseases affecting your nose or throat may have an impact on your chances of getting infected by cold viruses. Colds occasionally can lead to bacterial infections of your middle ear or sinuses, requiring treatment with antibiotics. However, you should not use antibiotics to treat a cold.
There is no cure for the common cold, but you can get relief from your cold symptoms by:
- Resting in bed
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Gargling with warm salt water or using ice chips, throat sprays, or lozenges for a scratchy or sore throat
- Using a decongestant or saline nasal spray to help relieve nasal symptoms
- Using petroleum jelly to soothe a raw nose
- Taking aspirin or acetaminophen—Tylenol, for example—for headache or fever
Thanks to basic research, scientists know more about the rhino-virus than almost any other virus and have powerful new tools for developing antiviral drugs. Breakthroughs in technology to detect and analyze viruses have allowed researchers to explore in unprecedented detail the complexity of the many viruses that cause the common cold. Although the common cold may never be uncommon, further studies offer hope of reducing the huge burden of this universal problem. The common cold is generally mild and self-limiting with most symptoms generally improving in a week. Half of cases go away in 10 days and 90% in 15 days. Severe complications, if they occur, are usually in the very old, the very young, or those who are immunosuppressed. Secondary bacterial infections may occur resulting in sinusitis, pharyngitis, or an ear infection.