The cold

The cold (also known as common cold, nasopharyngitis, rhinopharyngitis, acute coryza) is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract affecting primarily the nose. It is the most frequent infectious disease in humans : each year, adults contract it an average of 2 to 3 times and children 6 to 12 times.

The symptoms are the consequence of the response of the immune system to the infection of the body by the viruses, rather than the action of those viruses on the body. In adults, a strong immune system would get rid of the virus before severe symptoms appear.

Whenever our immune system has a decreased efficiency, we are more likely to get affected by a virus. This is even worse when the air is dry or during a dry season (such as winter) as the mucous membrane of our nose becomes more sensitive (low humidity increases viral transmission).

During the cold season for instance, we easily tend to heavier food, fewer vitamin intakes and closer (indoor) social activities. This combination permits the infection to spread easily among us.

The virus enters our body via the mucous membranes of the nose, the eyes and the mouth. This can happen in two ways: an infected person sneezes or coughs nearby, or the virus propagates from our hands (after touching an infected object) to our nose, eyes or mouth once we touch them before washing our hands.

Cough, runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat.

The colour of the nasal secretions may vary from clear to yellow to green and does not indicate the class of agent causing the infection.

Also sometimes muscle ache, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite.

Fever : generally not in adults, common in young children.

A cold usually begins with fatigue, a feeling of being chilled, sneezing and a headache, followed in a couple of days by a runny nose and cough. Symptoms may begin within 12-16 hours of exposure, typically peak 2-4 days after and last an average of 10-12 days.

Wash your hands regularly and avoid mouth, nose and eye contact before washing your hands in order to have better chances to prevent infection.

Get a lot of rest, allow your body to ged rid of the infection. For the same reason, eat light: the less energy to digest, the more to heal.

Sneeze and cough in one-use handkerchiefs, throw them away right after use to avoid transmission. Also remember that rhinovirus-caused colds are most infectious during the first three days of symptoms.
Vitamin C and zinc supplements will help to reduce the duration of colds.

Drink water in order to maintain hydration and help the body to clean itself.

There are no effective antiviral drugs for the common cold even though some preliminary research has shown benefit.

Antibiotics have no effect against viral infections and thus have no effect against the viruses that cause the common cold. They might be prescribed to avoid complications leading to bacterial diseases.

In most of the cases you will get rid of a common cold in a few days, but it is highly recommended to ask a doctor’s advice in case of : short breath, worsening cough, feverish state even after a few days, weak immune system, chronic heart or respiratory disease, severe cold symptoms lasting more than 10 days.

Even though they often appear simultaneously, upper respiratory tract infections are distinguished depending on the area they affect:

  • the cold affects the nose,
  • the pharyngitis affects the throat,
  • the sinusitis affects the sinuses,
  • and occasionally a conjunctivitis appears when the eyes get infected.

The name “common cold” came into use in the 16th century, due to the similarity between its symptoms and those of exposure to cold weather.

Even though common cold is a minor illness, it is the most common respiratory disease among young children and entails huge financial losses due to missed workdays in adults and care to children in parents, physician visits and drugs.

Nowadays concerns raise about antibiotic resistance as a lot of people who saw a doctor for common cold received an antibiotic prescription (not to heal the common cold itself as antibiotics have no effect against viral infections). Some of the reasons that antibiotics are so commonly prescribed include : people’s expectations for them, physicians’ desire to do something, and the difficulty in excluding complications that may be amenable to antibiotics.

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