Common Cold: Myths, Remedies, Preventive Measures
The flu season is upon us. Wherever you look you see people sneezing into hankies (if you are lucky, they don’t sneeze in your face), or wearing red noses and watery eyes as the season’s most fashionable accessories. Yes, with the chilly weather – which is warm enough for germs to survive outside your body for a while – it’s easier than ever to catch this annoying disease commonly referred to as the “common cold”. Today I’m going to take a better look at this annoying state that involves hankies, nasal sprays and hot tea – and hopefully give you a few tips on how to avoid catching it.
Common Cold: The facts
The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract – especially the nose – with symptoms that includes coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat and sometimes fever. Its symptoms are mostly due to the immune system’s response to the infection rather than viruses wreaking havoc in your body. And no, it doesn’t have a cure.
Still, the common cold is not something you should take lightly. While the disease itself is not a very serious one, it can lead to pneumonia, something much more severe both when it comes to symptoms and effects.
Up to 80% of the cases are caused by a rhinovirus, but sometimes influenza viruses, enteroviruses and others are to blame, often more than one at the same time. Science knows about 200 infectious agents that can cause the common cold – no wonder there’s no common cure for it.
The common cold is not an airborne disease – it is spread through bodily fluids. This means that the viruses themselves do not travel through air, but they can be transmitted through small droplets of saliva flying out of an infected person’s mouth. The most common ways for the infection to be transmitted are hand-to-hand and hand-to-surface contact.
The first symptoms usually appear within a day from the infection.
“Get dressed or you’ll catch a cold” is a warning “issued” by concerned mothers for decades or centuries, and it’s both true and false at the same time. Although being exposed to cold weather increases the susceptibility to catching a cold, dressing warm is far from being enough to avoid being infected.
To prevent spreading the infection, those who already caught a cold should wash their hands very often and avoid sneezing on anyone around them. Wearing a face mask can help reduce the spread of the virus. Those not yet infected can try avoiding contact with sick people. They can also wear face masks to prevent inhaling any possible aerosols, but this has not proven to be effective against catching a cold.
The common cold has no known treatment. The only way to treat it is to allow your immune system to do its job. Medication and herbal remedies can provide symptomatic relief. Getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated can help you feel better, and herbal tea, honey, nasal sprays and some over the counter medication can relieve the rest of the symptoms, like the sore throat and the runny nose.
Common Cold: The Myths
As it is a disease with no known treatment, the common cold is surrounded by a series of myths that were debunked by science. Here is a selection of those:
Myth: Being cold is responsible for the common cold
It’s not. The common cold is a viral disease, and being cold has nothing to do with it. While cold weather favors the spread of the disease, it doesn’t cause it at all.
Myth: “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” And vice versa
The fact that this myth exists in two contradictory versions should say a lot about its veracity. The cold and the flu sometimes affect a person’s appetite. Starving yourself or forcing yourself to eat won’t do you any good. If you can eat, eat – a good nutrition usually helps you get better, though.
Myth: Hot liquids will help you get better
This one is true, but only in part. While eating chicken soup or drinking a hot herbal tea with loads of honey won’t help your body defeat the common cold’s viruses faster, it will make you feel better. While a bowl of mom’s chicken soup won’t cure the common cold, it will provide comfort, help your nose clear up easier and also help you sleep better.
Myth: An insane amount of Vitamin C will help your body defeat the common cold
Another myth with a dash of truth in it. Vitamin C is a wonderful substance, helping your body function better. When taken in high doses – about 200 mg a day – it has been shown to reduce the frequency, duration and severity of the cold. But once you’re infected, taking Vitamin C will have no effect on your condition. It has a mild stimulant effect, though, which can help you feel better in your skin while being cold.
Anything above the necessary dose for your body will be flushed out, so there is no reason to take insane amounts of vitamin C when you catch the cold.