Common Cold

A common cold is an infection of your nose and upper airways, caused by a virus. Lots of different viruses can cause a cold. When you have a cold, your nose is full of cold virus. Sneezing spreads the virus in tiny drops in the air, which can then be inhaled. But you’re more likely to catch a cold by touching something that’s got virus on it, such as a door handle, and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth. Children get more colds than adults. Each year, most children get about five colds, and most adults get two or three. What are the symptoms? Symptoms often start with a sore throat. Soon, you start sneezing and get a runny nose. You may get a headache and chills. Young children may get a temperature. Later, you’ll probably get a blocked nose. The blood vessels in your nose swell up, and the mucus from your nose becomes thick and green even in a virus. You may get a dry cough that keeps you awake at night. Later on, you might cough up mucus. About half of people with a cold get muscle aches and pains. You may feel tired and irritable, or lose your appetite. The symptoms are similar to those of flu, but flu is more serious. If you have flu, you’re likely to get ill suddenly, get a temperature and feel extremely weak. What treatments work? There’s no cure for the common cold. Symptoms usually go after a few days. There are lots of treatments you can try to help your symptoms in the meantime. You can buy these in a pharmacy. However, not enough research has been done to say for certain that cold remedies work. Things you can do for yourself People often try breathing in steam to clear a blocked nose. You can inhale steam from a bowl of hot water, with a towel covering your head. We don’t know for certain if it can make your nose less blocked. There’s not been enough research to say. You need to take great care not to burn yourself, or your child, with the hot water. Medicines Cold remedies include painkillers, decongestants and antihistamine. You can take painkillers to help you feel better while you have a cold. Doctors usually suggest acetomenophen, ibuprofen or aspirin. There hasn’t been much research, but doctors agree that taking painkillers is the best way to help the sore throat, aches and pains you can get with a cold. You shouldn’t give aspirin to children under 16 years old. It can cause a serious problem called Reye’s syndrome (this condition affects the brain and the liver). You are more likely to get side effects, like an upset stomach, from aspirin or ibuprofen. But acetomenophen can cause severe liver damage if you take too much. This can be bad enough to kill you. Lots of cold remedies contain paracetamol. So read the labels to check that you’re not taking more paracetamol overall than the recommended dose. Decongestants can help unblock your nose for several hours. But there’s not enough research to show if using them for several days will keep your nose clear. You shouldn’t use them for longer than a week. Examples are Sudafed and Vicks Sinex. Decongestants should not be used in children under 2, and some adults cannot take them. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if they’re suitable for you. Antihistamines are usually used to treat allergies. If you take an antihistamine when you’ve got a cold, your nose may run a bit less and you may sneeze less. But the benefit is only small. Antihistamines can have side effects, including dizziness, a dry mouth,headaches and drowsiness. Don’t give antihistamines to children under 2. Doctors don’t recommend antibiotics for a cold. Antibiotics don’t work for viruses, and they have side effects. Other treatments Some people take vitamin C, the mineral zinc, or the herb echinacea to treat a cold. Research suggests that vitamin C is unlikely to help with a cold. But there hasn’t been enough research to know whether or not zinc and echinacea work. Some cough medicines are meant to stop you coughing. These often contain the drug dextromethorphan. Other cough medicines aim to help you cough up mucus. These often contain the drug guaifenesin. We don’t know how well these treatments work. There’s not been enough research. You should not take cough medicines that aim to stop you coughing up mucus if you have a lung problem, like chronic bronchitis. Ask your doctor whether they are suitable for you first. Common cold Many cough medicines aren’t recommended for children under 2. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure what to do. Menthol is a chemical with a strong smell. It’s found in peppermint oil. Some people breathe it in to clear a blocked nose. Examples are Karvol and Vicks Vaporub. For children, you can rub menthol on their pajamas or pillow at night, but this isn’t recommended for children under 3 months. What will happen to me? You’ll probably be clear of your cold by a week to 10 days. But you may be left with a cough that could last three weeks or more. You probably won’t need to see your doctor for a cold. But if you’re no better after two weeks or if you’re worried about an old or young person with a cold, talk to a doctor. Some people get other infections after a cold. These include ear infections, chest infections and infection of the sinuses. Chest infections can be serious, especially in babies and older people. Also, colds can trigger an asthma attack in people with asthma.