Common cold is a contagious, viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. There are more than 200 viruses that are associated with common cold, which is why the body is unable to develop immunity against it. The infection is common in children of school going age, who pass it on to other children and adults. The incidences of common cold lessens as the child grows older. It is normal for a child to catch a cold six to ten times in a year. As mentioned earlier, there are more than 200 viruses that are associated with common cold, and as young children are coming across them for the first time they are at a greater risk of catching a cold. Gradually, as they grow they build an immunity against the viruses and thus get fewer infections. As colds are caused by viruses and not bacteria, antibiotics do not help in curing the infection.
Signs and Symptoms
As common cold mainly affects the upper respiratory tract, i.e. the nose, throat and the wind pipe, symptoms are manifested in these parts only. A cold often starts with an itching sensation in the throat, a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing. Children who have caught the infection may also show symptoms like sore throat, cough, headache, mild fever, fatigue, muscle ache, and loss of appetite. Common cold is a self-limiting infection and typically gets cured by itself in 7 to 10 days but can sometimes extend for as long as 14 days. However, if it leads to complications like sinusitis, ear infection, laryngitis or bronchitis, the illness may take a longer time to cure.
As there are so many viruses responsible for causing common cold, there is no vaccine that can prevent the infection. Yet, there are a few proven ways to reduce exposure to the viruses and avoid the infection.
- Children and adults should wash hands after nose-wiping, after a visit to the wash room, before eating, and before cooking food.
- Clean taps, door handles (surfaces that are frequently touched) regularly with a disinfectant.
- Clean hands with a sanitiser as one drop of sanitiser can kill 99.99% of germs. As sanitisers are antiseptic, not antibiotic, there are no chances of development of any resistance.
- Avoid spending time with someone who has caught a cold. Virus particles can travel up to 12 feet through the air when someone with a cold coughs or sneezes.
- One suffering from a common cold must cover his/her nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing and use paper napkins instead of shared cloth napkins.
Apart from this, to strengthen the immune system to fight against the infection one must:
- Avoid passive smoking: It is responsible, directly or indirectly, for many health problems and infections including common cold.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics: The more people use antibiotics, the more likely they are to get sick with longer, more stubborn infections caused by more resistant organisms in the future.
- Importance of breastfeeding: Breast milk is known to protect against respiratory tract infections, even years after breastfeeding is stopped. Kids who have not been breastfed are more prone to common cold.
- Drink plenty of water: Drink as much water as you can as your body needs fluids for the immune system to function properly.
- Eat curds: The beneficial bacteria in some active curd cultures help you develop an immunity against the infection.
- Get enough sleep: Wrong sleeping habits can make one vulnerable to the infection.
Most of the common colds are due to viruses and are self-limiting, so treatment in the form of antibiotics is not recommended. Though medicines cannot cure common cold, they can be used to relieve some of the symptoms like muscle ache and headache.
Some of the treatments worth trying are:
- Jalneeti, an ayurvedic treatment which helps in cleaning the respiratory tract is very effective in relieving nasal congestion.
- Cough syrups can be consumed by adults to relieve pain and irritation in the throat but the best option is gargling with salted water.
- Applying petroleum jelly on the skin under the nose can help in soothing the rawness caused by frequent wiping of the nose.
- One must avoid giving decongestants or antihistamines to infants as they have been reported to cause hallucination, irritability, and irregular heartbeats.
- Plenty of fluids in the form juice, water etc. should be consumed. Chicken soup, an age-old remedy for the common cold is also worth trying by non-vegetarians. Vegetarians can try fenugreek tea, which helps in reducing the congestion.
- Babies suffering from a bout of common cold can’t breath easily when they are asleep or being fed. Raising the head of the mattress slightly may help.