An adult can expect 2-4 colds a year, and a little boy about 3-8 colds a year. Typically, symptoms peak after 2-3 days and then tempered for a few days. Sometimes the cough persisted for up to three weeks. There is no magic cure! Treatment aims to relieve symptoms. The main treatment is to take paracetamol or ibuprofen can relieve fever, aches and pains.
On this page
- What is a cold and what causes it?
- What are the symptoms of a cold?
- What are the treatments for colds?
- A note of caution
- Some recent research developments
- Are there possible complications of a cold?
- Can colds be prevented?
What is a cold and what causes it?
A cold is an infection of the nose and upper respiratory tract caused by a virus. Many viruses can cause a cold. This is why repeated colds, and immunization against colds is not possible. Children tend to have more colds than adults, adults have developed immunity to many viruses. Adults have an average of 2-4 colds a year. Young children have an average of 3-8 colds a year.
What are the symptoms of a cold?
- Common symptoms are blocked (stuffy) nose, runny nose and sneezing. At first there is a discharge (mucus) from the nose. This often becomes thick and yellow / green after 2-3 days. It may be difficult to sleep due to a blocked nose.
- You may feel generally unwell and tired, and you may develop a moderately high temperature (mild fever).
- Sometimes there is a slight sore throat, hoarseness and cough.
- An accumulation of mucus behind the eardrum can cause ear pain or mild dull view.
Symptoms usually peak after 2-3 days and then gradually loosen. Symptoms usually gone in a week, but in some cases, can take three weeks to disappear completely. In particular, the cough may persist for up to three weeks, often when other symptoms have disappeared. The symptoms, especially cough, tend to be worse and last longer in smokers compared with nonsmokers. A child living with smokers have a higher risk of developing coughs and colds.
What are the treatments for colds?
There is no magic cure for the common cold! No treatment that do not shorten the duration of the infection. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms while your immune system eliminates the virus. Note: antibiotics do not kill viruses, so they are useless for colds. The most useful treatments are:
- Paracetamol or ibuprofen will facilitate fever, sore throat, aches and pains.
- Make sure you drink enough or give your child plenty of fluids. Fever can cause additional fluid loss from the body through sweat. This can lead to mild dehydration can make you feel more tired, and can cause headaches. Hot drinks are often too reassuring.
- A steam inhalation can help clear the nose. Have a temporary effect, but can be useful before bedtime to help achieve the dream. However, be careful of burning yourself when using hot water. A hot steam shower is perhaps the safest option.
- A menthol sweet can also clear a clogged up nose for a while.
- Saline drops are a popular treatment for clogged-nose in a baby. Consider putting a few drops of saline (salt water) in the nose just before feeds. Some people believe that this helps to clear the nose for easier feeding. There is little scientific evidence as to how well this works, but it can be worth a try if power is difficult. You can buy saline drops in pharmacies.
What about the cold?
You can buy many other cold remedies in pharmacies. There is little evidence that they do much good, but some people find them useful. For example, a decongestant nasal spray can help clear a stuffy nose. But remember, cold remedies often contain several ingredients. Some can cause drowsiness. This may be welcome at bedtime if you have trouble sleeping when you have a cold. However, do not drive if you feel sleepy. Some contain paracetamol, so be careful not to take more than the maximum safe dose of paracetamol if you are already taking paracetamol tablets.
In March 2009, a major statement was issued by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which says:
"The new recommendation is that parents and caregivers should stop using over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines in children under 6 years. No evidence that they work and can cause side effects such as allergic reactions , effects on sleep or hallucinations.
For 6-12 years old these drugs will still be available, but will only be sold in pharmacies, with clearer advice on the packaging and pharmaceuticals. This is because the risk of side effects is reduced in older children as they weigh more, get fewer colds and can say if the medicine is doing any good. More research is being done by industry on how well these drugs work in children aged 6-12 years. '
Note: paracetamol and ibuprofen are not classified as cough and cold and still can give children.
A note of caution
If you do use a decongestant nasal spray, do not use for more than a few days. You can have an immediate effect to clear a stuffy nose. However, the effect will not last long. But note: if you use one for more than 5-7 days, a severe rebound congestion of the nose may develop.
Some recent research developments
Research studies indicate that:
- Some preparations of the herb Echinacea purpurea (herb) could reduce the severity of cold symptoms in adults.
- Taking medication containing zinc seems to help. A recent review of research trials concluded that "zinc is beneficial in reducing the duration and severity of the common cold in healthy people, when taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms." Zinc is thought to function by interfering in the way that cold viruses multiply. However, the optimum dosage formulation, and treatment duration are not yet fully established. Zinc also can not be used long term because of concerns about toxicity. More research is needed to clarify these points.
It is unclear whether these can become routine treatment or if they are still in the realms of research. See References below for details of the same.
Are there possible complications of a cold?
Most colds do not cause complications. A cold can trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath in people with asthma or other lung diseases. Sometimes, the infection travels to the chest, sinuses and ears. Bacteria can thrive in the mucus so some people develop a secondary bacterial infection of the chest, ears or sinuses. Therefore, consult a doctor if symptoms do not start to ease within a few days, or if you suspect a complication that is developing. In particular, the symptoms to be aware that it can mean something more than a cold include:
- Fever, wheezing or worsening headaches or severe.
- Rapid breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or cough up blood.
- Stridor breathing (wheezing) or difficulty – especially in a child.
- Unusual irritability or persistent crying in a baby.
- Persistent earache.
- Drowsiness or confusion.
- A cough that persists for more than 3-4 weeks.
- Any symptoms that can not be explained and is concerned.
Can colds be prevented?
Prevention is difficult. Many viruses can cause a cold. For this reason, it is difficult to produce a vaccine. In addition, many viruses that cause colds are in the atmosphere, which can not be avoided. However, the following are sensible suggestions that can minimize the risk of catching a cold or passing one by one if you have:
- People with colds should not get too close to each other (kissing, hugging, etc..)
- If you have a cold, wash your hands often with soap and water. Many cold viruses are transmitted by contact.
- Avoid sharing towels, flannel, etc., if you have a cold, or any person who has a cold.
- For children, discourage sharing toys belonging to a child with a cold. If your child has a cold, consider toys wash with soapy water after each use.
Basically, – common sense and good hygiene can prevent the spread of some colds. There is good evidence that vitamin or mineral supplements can prevent the common cold.
Exercise can also help
An interesting research study (cited below) concluded that people who exercise regularly are less likely to contract respiratory infections such as a cold. The study of 1,002 people found that during the winter period 12-week study, those who exercised for five or more days a week had a much lower chance of getting a cold compared with those who did very little exercise. And if someone who exercises regularly developed a cold, there was a good chance that it would be less severe symptoms than someone with a cold that did little exercise. One theory for why this may be so, is that exercise can boost the immune system, which can help us fight infections like the common cold.