The Lowdown…

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1)      The cold is the most common infectious disease in humans. It is type of virus which affects the mucous membrane of the nose. There are around 200 different strains that result in the symptoms we associate with having a cold.

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2)      We are three times more likely to catch a cold in winter months than in summer [no one seems to know why]. Children have on average 4-8 colds a year. Adults average 2-3 unless they spend a lot of time in close contact with children in which case they’ll tend to have more. As we get older we build antibodies to each particular viral strain we’ve had so in theory we should be less likely to get infected.

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3)      A cold virus in lab tests is not considered highly contagious or caught subject to the strength of someone’s immune system. Instead studies show that it is the length of time a person spends in close proximity with someone infected that generally determines whether they will catch it; you won’t necessarily catch a cold by kissing someone but you may if you sleep with them all night.

4)      A person is contagious even without symptoms; during the incubation period of between 12-48 hours before the cold and 3-4 days after when the infection appears to have gone.

The cold virus

The cold virus

5)      A cold virus can survive up to 3 hours outside of the body. It is [thought to be]spread by airborne droplets which can be inhaled directly or caught by touching contaminated people or objects with our hands and then touching our eyes nose or mouth.

6)      Antibiotics kill bacteria but they can’t kill a virus – antiviral drugs are not currently available for the common cold therefore there is no cure other than our own bodies natural defense mechanism; in this case taking from on average 3-7 days to clear.

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7)      The particular symptoms of a cold may vary slightly due to the type of strain but they are all alike in that they affect the nose and back of the throat – causing coughs, sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose, sore throat, headaches, earache and possibly tiredness. The symptoms are similar to that of the flu only the onset is generally slower, effects milder and there is no fever associated with a high temperature.

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8)      Although the cold virus in itself is not particularly harmful it can lead to secondary bacterial infections and exasperate existing conditions such as asthma and COPD. Some of the complications experienced are:  sore and swollen eyes, sinusitis, inflammation of the inner ear, tonsillitis, laryngitis, bronchitis and pneumonia.

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9)      There are a number of theories about how we may potentially avoid infection: –

  • Stay away from people with colds
  • Avoid crowded places where possible, especially if enclosed
  • Wash hands regularly throughout the day
  • Avoid touching your face especially eyes and nose
  • Regularly ventilate – open windows – in air conditioned and centrally heated [dry] places
  • Wrap a scarf around your nose to keep it warm when outside
  • Ensure that you are eating a fresh nutrient full and well balanced diet
  • According to one study in Spain drinking 2 glasses of red wine a day can half your chances of infection.
  • Stress appears to be a large contributory factor so avoid stress where possible; especially divorce, moving house, getting a new job or holidaying with family.

10)   Forms of treatment; as stated above there is no cure but some symptoms are claimed to be helped or relieved by the following methods:-

  • To ease breathing

Steam inhalations – whether as a long hot shower, steam room or covered head over a bowl of hot water

Spicy foods that make your eyes and nose run

Salt nose drops

Humidified [warm] air

Numerous aromatherapy preparations such as peppermint and eucalyptus either added to humidifiers or as a body rub

Nasal sprays /decongestants as advised by pharmacist

Sleep with your head on a high pillow

Blow your nose gently – a blocked nose is caused by dilated blood vessels not snot so forceful blowing may make matters worse especially for your sinuses.

  • Sore throat and coughs

Gargling with salt water

Zinc lozenges

Honey & glycerin syrups

Other over the counter medications as per pharmacists advice

  • Diet and supplements

Drink plenty of water

Avoid dehydrating drinks specifically containing alcohol and caffeine

Warm drinks & hot soup may comfort and sooth symptoms

Eat the usual well balanced diet

Echinacea may in some cases shorten the length of the cold

High doses of vitamin C; studies have shown there may be some beneficial effect but only in extreme cases e.g. for Olympic athletes and those in arctic conditions.

  • To alleviate spread

Use paper tissues and throw away after each use

Wash hands regularly

Keep all surfaces, cloths, towels, sheets etc. clean and aired.

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