Common Cold

7 mins read

Common cold is an infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract which primarily affects the nose and the throat. The most common symptoms include a sore throat, runny nose, cough, sneezing and sometimes accompanied by fever. More than 200 strains of viruses are implicated for causing the common cold, of which rhinoviruses are the most common ones. There exists no known cure for cold however the symptoms can be treated. Children and infants are more prone to the infection with about six to twelve episodes in an entire year. Although an average adult can get about three to four colds a year.

Common cold is mainly caused due to a viral infection. Although, being mild the common cold is one of the leading cause of visits to the doctor and missed days from school and work.  The viruses that play an established role in causing cold are as follows:

  • Adenovirus
  • Rhinovirus
  • Coronavirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus

Of the above five, the rhinovirus is the most common culprit for colds. The mode of entry for a cold virus in our body is through nose, mouth and eyes. The virus spreads through tiny, air droplets that are released when the infected person sneezes, coughs, or blows their nose.

Symptoms usually occur after 2 or 3 days after being exposed to the virus, although sometimes it might take as long as a week. Following are the symptoms that manifest from rhinovirus infection:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy or sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild fatigue

Risk Factors
Although the cold viruses are present in the environment at all times, certain factors may increase the risk of an infection, including:

  • Age: The infection mainly affects infants and pre-schoolers. This is mainly because their immune systems have not yet developed resistance to these viruses. However, an immature immune system is not the only factor that increases the vulnerability of small children to cold. They spend a lot of time with other children and aren’t always careful about washing their hands or covering their mouths. Accordingly, the elderly have a weakened immune system which increases their risk of getting the cold and other upper respiratory tract infections.
  • Medical Conditions: Medical conditions which hamper the immune system such as AIDS can increase the susceptibility of cold. People who are on immunosuppressants are also at a higher risk of infection. Certain genetic disorders may also increase the predisposition to respiratory infections such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis.
  • Seasonal Incidence: Colds and flu are most common in winter and rainy seasons. This seasonal bias can be attributed to several factors such as follows:
  • Dry winter dries up nasal passages making them more susceptible to the cold viruses
  • People spend more time indoors during winter which increases one’s exposure to high concentration of these viruses
  • Allergy: An existing allergic disease of the nose and throat (allergic rhinitis) may put people at a higher risk for contracting the infection.

The symptoms of cold generally overlap with flu and hence it may be difficult at times differentiating between them. However, cold symptoms are generally less severe than those produced by flu. Several available tests are available that can isolate and identify the viruses causing some respiratory infections. However, generally these tests aren’t needed, since most cases of the flu are self-evident. These tests can, however, be very useful in confirming or ruling out the flu.
In case the symptoms don not subside your doctor may recommend a nasal swab test to verify the type of infection. Sometimes, a test may be required to either rule out or diagnose certain allergic conditions (allergic rhinitis, sinusitis).

No known cure exists for common cold. Antibiotics should be avoided since they are potent only against bacterial infections and cold is caused by viruses. Most colds go away in a few days however the symptoms can be treated using the following:

  • Medications: Many people turn to pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat fever, sore throat and any headache. However one should be cautious as these medicines can cause severe liver damage and hence should be avoided in children.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays: Nasal sprays are usually used to ease the congestion caused by mucus buildup. They can be directly applied to the nasal passages and are found to cause fewer side effects than oral decongestants.
  • Cough Remedies: Cough drops, syrups, throat sprays, or gargling with warm water may help relieve sore throat and ease the coughing. Although, over-the-counter cough syrups should be avoided as there is not enough evidence to support that they treat the underlying cause of the cough or cold. Patients should not suppress coughs that produce mucus and phlegm. It is important to expel this substance. To loosen phlegm, patients should drink plenty of fluids and use a humidifier or steamer.

Alternative Therapies

  • Naturopaths recommend various supplements as an alternative therapy for common cold. These include zinc, vitamin A, Vitamin C etc. The anti-oxidant properties of both Vitamin C & A are shown to reduce the length and severity of cold symptoms. [10]
  • Herbs provide relief by helping the immune system, further helping in treating as well as preventing cold. Cayenne, ginger, honey, mustard, echinacea all help in boosting respiratory health thereby clearing congestion and treating cold. [9]
  • Essential oils like rosemary, eucalyptus and lavender all have anti-microbial properties which helps fighting the cold virus. These oils make perfect aromatherapy baths, nasal inhalations or facial steam.
  • Yoga and meditation can help liberate stress and anxiety from the body which helps to reduce inflammation of the nasal passages or throat thereby helping to relive the symptoms. [11], [12]

Most cold symptoms go away within a week. However, if the symptoms do not subside then it is highly recommended to visit your doctor to rule out a sinus infection, allergies or any other medical problems.

Some of the complications that may result from a persistent cold are as follows:

  • Acute Ear Infection: Otitis media is an acute infection of the inner ear and occurs when bacteria or viruses infiltrate the nose-ear barrier. This is a frequent complication of common cold in children and can be quite troublesome.
  • Sinusitis: A common cold that does not resolve usually leads to the inflammation of the sinuses caused by the infection. It is commonly called as sinusitis.
  • Bronchitis: Bronchitis results from swelling and inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs.
  • Wheezing: In children with asthma, a cold may trigger wheezing.
  • Pneumonia: In extreme but rare cases, a cold can eventually lead it way to the lungs and cause pneumonia.

Read More:
Cold-triggered Asthma Has A Potential Cure: Study
5 Ways To Combat Cold & Flu Season Naturally
Natural Ways To Conquer The Common Cold
Safe & Natural: Treating Your Baby’s Cold At Home
Cold & Flu Season Guide To Good Health
Breathe Out That Cold
Sinus Infection

1. Infectious Disease Society of America

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