Winter is just around the corner and with it often comes colds and flu. The common cold is a viral infection of the upper airway (nose and throat). While usually harmless, it may not feel that way at the time. In fact, because any one of more than 100 viruses can cause a common cold, and signs and symptoms tend to vary.
Pre-school children are at greatest risk of frequent colds, but even healthy adults can expect to have a few colds each year. Most people recover from a common cold in about a week or two. The disease spreads through aerosol spread while coughing and shaking hands with an infected person without washing hands could also spread it.
Etiquette like covering your mouth while coughing and good hand washing after coughing should be emphasized, as they are simple ways which go a long way in reducing the spread of common cold. If symptoms don’t improve within a couple of days or more, see your doctor.
Symptoms of a common cold usually appear about one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus. These differ from person to person and also present differently in different age groups. In small children, for example, symptoms are subtle.
Signs and symptoms of a common cold may include:
• Runny or stuffy nose;
• Itchy or sore throat or just an irritation on throat;
• Cough – mostly a dry cough but sometimes can have phlegm;
• Nasal congestion – can be runny or blocked nose;
• Slight generalised body aches or a mild headache;
• Sneezing and irritation in the nostrils;
• Watery eyes, which sometimes are itching;
• Feeling hot and cold at times;
• Mild, general body weakness and easily getting tired; and
• Cold sores (sores on the lips).
You may not be able to cure your common cold, but you can make yourself as comfortable as possible.
These tips may help:
• Drink lots of fluids, especially warm fluids. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can cause dehydration, and cigarette smoke, which can make your symptoms worse.
• Try chicken soup. Believe it or not it actually relieves the symptoms in common cold because it replenishes the fluids you lose in runny nose, sweating; the taste makes it more palatable; the nutrients in the soup are vital.
• Get some rest. This will give you a chance to rest as well as reduce the chances that you will infect others.
• Keep your room warm, but not overheated.
• Soothe your throat. A saltwater gargle — 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in 250mls of warm water, you can squeeze in a lemon for flavour — can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat.
• Use saline nasal drops to help relieve nasal congestion.
Other conditions which may mimic common cold are early pneumonia (chest infection), croup (inflammation of the throat), early tonsillitis and sinusitis, among others. Differentiating these from the common cold is important because the treatment differs depending on the condition. Diagnosing the condition is based on the history of the symptoms, examination by the doctor to look for the signs of the condition and, if need be, investigations such as blood tests, X-rays or sonars.
Your doctor can prescribe some medication for relief of symptoms if the remedies listed above do not offer much relief. You can seek medical assistance from your family doctor if symptoms persist so that he or she can examine you and determine if any other conditions are complicating your symptoms. – Adapted from Medscape
*Dr W K Majoni holds MBChB (UZ) and Masters in HIV/AIDS Management (Stell)