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The Common Cold - What is it?


What we call a "cold" is an infection of the nasal and throat mucus membranes by any one of about

200 types of viruses. The average adult gets 2-3 colds per year.

Symptoms of the common cold:

Sneezing, coughing, sore throat, malaise, low grade fever, runny nose, congestion.

How do we get a cold?

Viruses that are responsible for colds are easily spread by person to person contact. Most frequently,

the virus is on the cold-sufferer's skin, and is transmitted by direct contact to the hands of the

unsuspecting recipient, who then touches their eyes or nose, thus acquiring the same virus. "Cold"

viruses can live on human skin for up to 2 hours. Alternatively, the cold virus can be shed on

inanimate surfaces, and picked up by the hands of the susceptible recipient. Direct transmission of

respiratory droplets by coughing or sneezing is another effective way for cold viruses to be spread.

Prevention of colds:

  • Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizers.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • If you have a cold, wash your hands frequently.
  • If you have a cough, cough into your arm to prevent hand contamination.
  • Get adequate rest, eat a balanced diet, and manage stress as well as possible.
  • Some evidence shows that regular exercise can decrease susceptibility to colds.

What doesn't work?

  • Antibiotics (effective for bacterial illnesses, not for viruses)
  • High dose Vitamin C
  • Echinacea
  • Zinc

What helps?

  • The over-the-counter cough suppressant dextromethorphan may be helpful to some

individuals for cough.

  • The behind the counter decongestant pseudoephedrine may help for sinus congestion.
  • The over the counter decongestant phenylephrine (PE) is not very effective.
  • Over the counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen ( Advil or Motrin) with food will help

low-grade fever and achiness.

  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheniramine may help dry up a

runny nose, but can cause sleepiness.

  • Cromolyn Sodium (NasalCrom) is available over-the-counter, and may help cold symptoms if

used 3 or 4 times per day.

When to seek Medical Attention:

  • Pain in teeth or sinuses
  • Persistent fever over 101F or 38C
  • Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, or chest pressure/tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Prolonged cough
  • Shaking chills
  • Symptoms that get worse
  • If no improvement after 10 days