common cold, known medically as a URI, is caused by a viral infection of the upper
respiratory tract. It causes irritation and drainage in any or all of the airways
including the nose, sinuses, throat, voice box, and often the bronchial tubes.
colds last about 5 to 14 days and will gradually disappear without any specific treatment.
The majority (75%) of sufferers are better within the first week. Well over 100 different
types of cold viruses are known and each virus may have a slightly different pattern of
symptoms and severity.
Excessive fatigue, emotional stress and other factors that weaken the body's immune
defenses will predispose us to infection upon exposure to the virus.
Rhinovirus. An electron micrograph.
Symptoms and Signs
Colds usually begin abruptly. Throat discomfort is
often first, followed by sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion and a decreased energy
level. Fever is usually absent or low grade (101 or less), although children and infants
may have fever up to 102 degrees. Chest symptoms are variable, and when they are present
it is commonly referred to (by non-physicians) as a "chest cold".
Mucous can become thick and coughing, if present,
can last two to four weeks. Discolored sputum and nasal secretions are normal and
can last 7-10 days. Discolored mucus is caused by your body's dead white blood cells and
simply indicates that your immune system is fighting the infection for you. This symptom does
not require treatment with an antibiotic! (More on proper use of antibiotics
Treatment and Prevention
There is no treatment to cure viral infections,
including the common cold. Only the symptoms can be treated. Colds are most contagious for
about the first four days of symptoms, but could persist longer. The virus can be
transmitted by airborne saliva and is easily spread when groups of people are together in
enclosed areas, so be sure to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. The virus also
can be physically transmitted from one person to another, so hand washing is the most
important way to limit the spread of the virus.
Non-prescription medications such as decongestants
(Sudafed®, and others), cough syrups and aspirin substitutes (such as ibuprofen or
acetaminophen or naproxen or ketoprofen) can provide relief for the symptoms produced by
the infection, but should be used judiciously and according to package instructions. You
need to check with your doctor if you have any medical problems listed on the medication
bottle as a warning.
Listed below are self-care suggestions to help you
be more comfortable during a cold and for preventing the onset of more serious
- Rest and stay warm; increase your hours of sleep.
don't blow, when you have a Cold. Researchers have found that blowing
your nose creates enough pressure to propel mucus into your sinuses. This could worsen
congestion in the sinuses and contribute to making you feel lousy when you have a cold.
The normal mucus flow is from the front of the nose to the back, and with nose blowing you
- A salt-water (saline) nasal spray (AYR®, and others) may be used to
keep nasal passages moist and clean.
- A nasal decongestant spray can be helpful. Afrin® should never be used longer than 3 days, but
Neo-Synephrine® can be used for up to 2 weeks in a row. (Be sure to use this with
Sudafed® before flying or diving since the change in atmospheric pressure can cause a
painful blockage in your middle ear.)
- Increase your intake of fluids (water, juices, and decaffeinated
liquids), but try to avoid milk and dairy products (they can thicken your mucus). You are
doing a good job with fluid intake if your urine output is both frequent and clear.
This is an herbal product well worth trying. It is derived from daisies and has been shown
to improve immune system function. I recommend starting Echinacea (preferably with
"Golden Seal") at the onset of a cold, and then stopping the herb once your
symptoms have passed. I do not recommend staying on this herb long term, although new data
has not shown any detrimental effects with continuous use.
- Gargle with warm salty water and drink hot tea with honey and lemon
to ease a sore throat.
- Use cough drops (Cough-X®, and others), lozenges, or throat sprays
to soothe a dry throat and to inhibit coughing.
- Inhale steam from a hot bath or shower to relieve congestion in your
nose, head, and chest. Use of a vaporizer in the bedroom is not advised as they can
promote the growth of molds.
Vitamin C has not been proven to prevent a URI, but
studies do show that it can shorten the duration of your URI. The optimum dose is 500
twice a day (after breakfast and dinner). People with a history of kidney stones should
never exceed a daily dose of 1000 mg.
I also feel
that it's a good idea to take Echinacea on days that you feel "run-down" and
susceptible to illness. The usual dosage is 250 - 500 mg. four times a day for acute
infection. The dose for prevention of infection is 250 - 500 mg. once a day.
have been inconclusive in documenting the effectiveness of Zinc lozenges in treating a cold. I personally
believe that it may help if you can start it on the first day of symptoms (keep it
on hand for future infections). It can cause some stomach upset if you have not eaten.
Dissolve the lozenge in your mouth every 2 hours (6 doses a day) until the symptoms pass, but no
longer than 1 week.
- Avoid close contact with others and if possible, curtail normal
activities, including physical exercise, until your symptoms improve or disappear.
- Avoid smoking during your cold, as it will cause further irritation
to your upper respiratory tract.
Medical treatment (such as an antibiotic) is rarely
needed for a common cold; however, bacteria that live in the nose and throat can sometimes
gain a foothold and cause a secondary infection such as middle ear infections, bacterial
sinusitis and bacterial bronchitis. If you develop any of the following symptoms that
worsen or persist past 10-14 days, you should seek medical attention, since these
complications may indicate a more serious infection:
- Prolonged fever of over 102 degrees F.
- Persistent cough which produces thick mucus lasting for over 7-10
- Chest pain or shortness of breath.
- Persistent earache.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Body rash.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
information will help you fight your cold safely and effectively without having to resort
to antibiotics. Antibiotics have been overused for many years in the treatment of viral
infections for which they have no proven value. We see many people in our medical practice
who come in for a viral URI thinking they need an antibiotic in order to "do
something" about their viral infection.
Contrary to lay
opinion, antibiotics will not cure a cold, shorten the duration of a cold, or prevent a
cold from getting worse.
Over the years,
inappropriate antibiotic usage has led to the development of "Superbugs". That
is, bacteria which are resistant to multiple antibiotics.
indiscriminately kill off the good bacteria that live in our intestinal tract
and help with the absorption of vital nutrients from our foods. This is why antibiotics
are frequently associated with diarrhea and vaginal yeast infections.
are supplements that replace the "good" bacteria back into our systems. This can
include plain yogurt, Lactinex®, or acidophilus supplements. Taking a probiotic while
taking an antibiotic helps lessen this complication.
our natural ability to fight infections, thus we are likely to get infections more
frequently. For these reasons, it is always in your best interest to fight viral
infections as naturally as possible without resorting to antibiotics unless your doctor
feels they are absolutely necessary.
Studies have shown
that many doctors prescribe antibiotics, even when they know they are not really
necessary, because of pressure from patients who expect, request, or even demand to have them prescribed.
The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, along with the World Health Organization recommend an
immediate change in the way that doctors prescribe, and patients use, antibiotics.