The common cold is a virus infection that affects the lining of the nose and throat. It can cause congestion of the sinuses and the ears. When it affects the vocal cords in the throat it causes Laryngitis. When it affects the lining of the airways in the chest it is called Bronchitis. Children get an average of ten colds a year. Adults average only 2 – 4 colds a year.
The viruses that cause the common cold are very contagious, and most often spread by breathing in airborn droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Colds can also be spread by direct contact, such as when an infected person touches their nose, mouth, or eyes then touches an object, then you touch the object and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. The cold virus can live outside the body for up to three hours in some cases.
To keep from getting a cold, keep your hands away from your nose, mouth, and eyes unless you wash them first with soap and water or use a sanitizing hand gel. Do not eat or drink after other people. To prevent spreading a cold to other people, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, throw away your tissues after you use them, and wash your hands after you cough or sneeze or touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Frequent hand washing or using a sanitizing gel will help keep you from getting a cold and from spreading it to other people.
Cold symptoms can last from several days to several weeks. The predominant symptom may change over time. Colds typically start three days after the virus enters the body. Colds almost always clear up on their own, but can lead to ear infections (primarily in children) and bronchitis.
Symptoms of a cold
Stuffy or runny nose Sore or scratchy throat Sneezing Watery eyes Cough Muscle and joint aches Tiredness Headache Chills Loss of appetite Mild fever 99-100 degrees.
Things that can act like a cold
Influenza is a specific type of viral infection that is very contagious and spread like the common cold. Influenza always causes a fever (101 degrees or higher) and always causes a cough. Stuffy nose, sneezing, runny nose are less common with influenza. Muscle and joint aches, headaches, backaches are almost always more severe with influenza. People with influenza should stay home from work or school for at least three to four days. Influenza can cause pneumonia.
Allergies can act like the common cold. They may occur only at certain times of the year, or last for many weeks longer than a cold. Allergies usually do not cause severe coughing or muscle aches, but can cause headache and tiredness.
Bronchitis often starts out as a common cold. When the virus moves down into the chest, coughing becomes the predominant symptom. People with asthma or other lung diseases, and smokers are more prone to have problems from bronchitis.
There is no cure for the cold, but many over the counter products can make you feel better. Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or acetominophen (Tylenol) will help with fevers, chills, sore throat, and muscle aches. Adults can also use aspirin, but aspirin should never be given to anyone under 21 for a cold. A decongestant (psudoephedrine, phenylephedrine) can help with the stuffy or runny nose. A humidifier or vaporizer in the room at night or taking a hot shower or steam bath may help. Plenty of sleep will make you feel better, and may help you recover faster. You do not need to stay home when you have a cold, but may be too tired and feel to ill to go to work or school for three to four days.