Dear Dr. Mo: What exactly is ‘common cold’ and how to recognize it – is that the same as flu? Should I be worried and what to do?
Dear reader: These days you can’t seem to escape people who sneeze, cough, have a runny nose or all of it together – in fact, you may be one of them.
Don’t worry, it’s usually nothing serious, just a mild viral infection of upper airways also known as common cold and it requires no special treatment.
The symptoms of common cold may bug us for up to two weeks at a time and if we can maintain our daily function, if there are no serious muscle or joint pains, no high fever or strong headaches and prolonged fatigue it’s not the flu or other serious conditions and you shouldn’t be concerned. But if symptoms persist even after two weeks or start to get worse after 7 – 10 days, visit your doctor to see what’s going on.
Over 100 viruses can cause a common cold and you may experience anything from a runny nose to sore throat, cough and sneezing to watery eyes and strong congestion. Part of the package may also be mild muscle ache and headache, slightly elevated body temperature, mild fatigue and upset fellow elevator passengers. Those unlucky enough may get all these symptoms at once.
Those of us who have small children know common colds all too well as children tend to have them up to 8 or even 10 times a year (and subsequently, we catch it too). I dread every time my little girl sneezes thinking to myself “oh not again”, but all this is normal and it is only one of the many joys of parenthood.
Remember that what differentiates a common cold from other viral infections (i.e. flu) is the fact that generally you won’t have high fever,strong muscle aches or severe headaches and whatever the symptoms you experience, these generally tend to be mild and bearable if boring.
You don’t need to go to your doctor for common cold and you do not require any antibiotics – these are not effective against viruses.
Things you can do include some over-the-counter pain relievers (Paracetamol or Ibuprofen based), which can also lower your elevated temperature, some decongestant like Xylometazoline (use it for up to 7 days max), and something for the throat like gargling warm salty water, drinking warm herbal infusions or using losanges.
Chicken soup is effective because it has anti-inflammatory and decongestant effects plus it replenishes the lost fluids so make sure you include it in your diet (even when you’re not sick!).
Drink plenty of water because you lose excess water when you sneeze, cough and have a runny nose and if your temperature is elevated, the body uses water to cool itself so watch for dehydration; if you drink alcohol, cut it down as it tends to dehydrate you as well.
Vitamin C as a weapon against the cold is nothing but a myth – although it is true that this vitamin is a powerful antioxidant and that is plays an important role in tissue reparation, it has never been clinically proven that taking additional doses of vitamin C helps or speeds up our recovery or that it prevents cold. Do take it through your daily fruits and vegetables but there is no need to pop any additional vitamin C pills as it will most likely not help. Of course, if you’re already taking some multivitamins, there’s no reason to stop.
Just remember – never give aspirin to children as it has been linked to a rare but dangerous condition called the Reye’s syndrome. Do not give decongestants to children as there is little evidence they have any effect in children and they could be harmful. As a rule, never give anything to children without consulting a doctor first.
Never take more Paracetamol or Ibuprofen based medication than prescribed as excess Paracetamol may damage your liver and Ibuprofen (even in prescribed doses) may be tough on your stomach, especially if you have or have had a stomach or duodenal ulcer.
Like I said, if after two weeks you are still feeling congested, fatigued and generally sick or if after a week or so symptoms turn for the worse, visit your doctor as sometimes even common colds can evolve complications. Most common complications are middle ear infection, sinusitis and several other secondary infections like bronchitis and pneumonia, which must be treated by a doctor!
There is no vaccine for common cold but there are a few simple things you can do to help yourself and others:
Wash your hands regularly and teach your kids to do so.
Sneeze and cough into tissues and throw them away as soon as you can and wash or sanitize your hands afterwards. If no tissue is at hand, sneeze and cough into your bent elbow to cover your mouth and nose without using your hands.
Use your own glass while you’re sick and even a few days after you recover.
Choose a daycare with good hygienic conditions and with a rule of retaining sick kids at home.
Colds are inevitable seasonal inconvenience but don’t let them stand in your way – keep a positive attitude and your immune system will follow suite, recovering your faster.
Yours in health,