Wednesday, February 13, 2008

By: Glenn E. Gaborko, Jr. PA-C MPAS - UCF Health Center Provider

Everyone knows that uncomfortable feeling of a runny, congested nose, sore, scratchy throat, and sneezing – the first signs of a cold which probably is the most common illness known. Although usually very mild, the common cold lasts from one to two weeks and is the leading cause of doctor’s office visits and of job and school absenteeism.

We call it the “common cold” for a good reason. It is estimated that there are over one billion colds in the United States annually. There are over 200 different viruses (particularly the rhinoviruses) documented that cause the symptoms of a cold. Children typically are the most common carriers of the viruses. They are exposed in school and the virus spreads to the home where the parents keep the strain alive with their coworkers.

Colds can occur year-round, but they occur mostly in the winter (even in areas such as Central Florida with mild winters). In areas where there is no winter, colds are most common during the rainy season. Seasonal changes in humidity also may affect the prevalence of colds. The most common viruses are able to live with low humidity and cool temperatures. Cold weather also dries out the nasal passage that makes one more vulnerable to a viral infection.

When a person has a cold, their nasal passages are swarming with virus. Nose blowing and wiping along with sneezing spread the virus. You can catch a cold by inhaling the virus if you are sitting close to someone who sneezes, or by touching your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contaminated by the virus.

Once exposed, the body does everything it can to fight back. The immune response sends a message to the brain, which releases special white blood cells to the infected area. Typically involving the nasal passages, the membranes become inflamed and swollen. Increased mucous production is initiated and hence the runny nose.

The three most frequent symptoms of a cold are a runny nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion. People are most contagious for the first 2 or 3 days of the illness, and usually not contagious by days 7 to 10. Adults and older children routinely have minimal or no fever at all. Once you have “caught” a cold, the symptoms will begin in 2 to 3 days. Initially with a watery discharge that leads to nasal secretions that become thicker in nature and yellow or green in color. This is a normal part of the common cold and there is no need for antibiotics because of the color of the nasal discharge.

Depending on which virus attacks your body, other symptoms that you could have as well include: sore throat, cough, muscle aches, headache, postnasal drip, and decreased appetite. Still, if indeed it is a true common cold, the main symptoms will occur in the nose. The entire cold is usually over within 7 days possibly with a few lingering symptoms.

While we live in a society very dependent on antibiotics, the common cold is NOT treated with antibiotics. Over-the-counter cough and cold preparations will not actually shorten the length of the cold, but they will decrease the symptoms, which provide relief to the person. Decongestants will drain the mucous while antihistamines will dry the membranes. Throat lozenges and cough drops will help sooth the scratchy throat. Meanwhile, plenty of rest and relaxation will also help the body build its natural response to the infection. Plenty of fluids also help flush the body of the virus. Lastly, chicken soup has been used for treating the common cold since the 12th century. The heat, fluid and salt may help you fight the infection.

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