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Common Cold 101

"What you can do to prevent it from being all too common"
By: Gwen Y. Reyes-Amurao, M.D.Common Cold 101

Through the years, we have all gone through our bouts of the common cold. With it being so common, you would wonder why so many people still suffer from it. Find out all there is to know about the common cold and what you can do to prevent it from being all too common.

What is a common cold?

Mayo Clinic defines common cold as a viral infection of your nose and throat or more collectively known as the upper respiratory tract. It is an illness caused by a virus, usually by rhinovirus, which is thought to be responsible for at least 50% of all common colds. Other viruses associated with it are coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and parainfluenza virus. According to CDC or Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 million days of absenteeism are attributed yearly to the common cold.

What are the signs and symptoms?

According to commoncold.org, cold symptoms are mainly to the body’s response to infection. When the nasal passages are infected by a cold virus the body responds by activating parts of the immune system, which release inflammatory mediators such as histamine, interleukin, and prostaglandin. This leads to dilatation and leakage of blood vessels and mucus gland secretion. This also triggers both sneeze and cough reflexes and can stimulate pain nerve fibers, all of which explain the signs and symptoms observed when you have a cold.

A person suffering from this may experience any or all of the following:

  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Persistent sneezing
  • Stuffy nose or nasal congestion
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose or watery nasal discharge
  • Mucus drains from your nose into your throat or postnasal drip
  • Occasional fever

How does one get infected with this virus?

A cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose. It can spread through droplets in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, releasing the virus into the air. It can also spread by hand-to-hand contact with someone who has a cold or when you share objects such as utensils or toys. Once you touch any mucosal surface such as your eyes, nose or mouth, you are most likely to catch a cold.

Once the virus is taken into the cell and starts an infection, new virus particles are produced, infecting various parts of the respiratory tract.  From the time a cold virus enters the nose, it takes about 8 to 12 hours for viral reproduction to be completed. This is called the incubation period. After few hours, symptoms may be observed and usually are at its worse 2 to 3 days after.

Are there complications associated with it?

When not addressed early or properly, complications may arise from this illness. From a simple cold, it can actually progress to any of the following and should be treated by your physician.

  • Acute ear infection or otitis media
  • Asthma
  • Acute sinusitis
  • Secondary infections such as strep throat, pneumonia, whooping cough or bronchitis in children

Can this be prevented?

Like in any other illness, prevention is always the key. The following tips can help prevent infection

  • Steer clear of Avoid people with the common cold, and if you are infected, make sure you do your best to avoid infecting others too.
  • Rest when you’re sick. This doesn’t just to help you recover faster. but it also prevents other people from getting infected with your virus.
  • Practice proper handwashing techniques.  The World Health Organization realizes the importance of this, which is why they came up with a Global Handwashing Day. With this advocacy, they aim to prevent school absenteeism by promoting clean hands since most viruses are transmitted through this mechanism.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces regularly, This is true especially in hospitals and in schools or daycare centers, where people are more likely to spread infection by simply coming in contact with infected or contaminated surfaces.

How do you manage a common cold?

Any viral infection will usually resolve on its own without you doing anything. A common cold will often last 7 to 10 days, after which you may need to see your doctor for further evaluation and management. Any medication given during your period of illness would be for symptomatic relief. Common medicines include antihistamines, decongestants, and pain relievers. Hydration is also very important when you have a cold, while zinc supplements have been proven to decrease the duration of illness. Although vitamin C and zinc have been recommended as well, it is best to use these supplements daily and not only on an as needed basis to help build one’s immunity. 
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