The Common Cold
A common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract. The common cold may be caused by several different viruses and also affects the nose and throat. Symptoms of the common cold normally last about a week but may last longer in children, the elderly and in individuals with other underlying conditions or illnesses. The common cold is one of the main reasons people visit the doctor each year. While a common cold is not serious, it is unpleasant and can often cause missed days of work or school. A doctor should be consulted if symptoms of a cold such as fever, headache or breathing difficulties worsen and do not get better over time.
Causes of the Common Cold
The common cold is caused by a virus that affects the upper respiratory tract, throat and nose. While there are more than 200 viruses that can cause the symptoms of the common cold, the rhinovirus is the most common type of virus that causes most colds.
Colds are highly contagious and are often spread when droplets of the fluid containing the virus are transferred by touch or are inhaled.
Symptoms of the Common Cold
Symptoms of the common cold can vary depending on the type of virus it is caused by and may include:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Low grade fever
- Body aches
- Nasal congestion
Adults may suffer from two to four colds each year, while children may have between six and eight colds each year. Colds are especially widespread during the winter and rainy seasons with symptoms appearing usually one to three days after exposure.
Treatment of the Common Cold
The infection from the common cold usually lasts for about a week or two and cannot be cured. The following treatments will not cure a cold but may relieve some of the symptoms:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- A saltwater gargle
- Over the counter decongestant or antihistamine
- Saline nose drops
- Acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen for body aches or fever
- Adding a cool mist humidifier to the room
There are no antiviral medications available for treating the common cold. Antibiotics are also not useful for treating a cold, and should only be taken to treat bacterial complications that may arise from a cold.
Influenza, also known as the flu, is a contagious viral infection that appears seasonally. It spreads from person to person and can cause mild to severe symptoms. The flu affects the nose, throat and lungs and symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue. For some people, the flu can lead to serious complications, and possibly even death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 20 percent of Americans gets the flu each year, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized annually from flu-related complications. Young children, older adults and people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for infection.
Symptoms of the Flu
Initial flu symptoms are similar to the common cold, but are often more severe and may include:
- High fever
- Chills and sweats
- Fatigue and weakness
- Body aches
People with the flu may also experience nasal congestion and sore throat.
Complications of the Flu
Most people recover from the flu with no lasting effects.
However, complications may develop, especially in very young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Complications include:
- Sinus infections
- Asthma attacks
- Ear infections
People with chronic medical conditions including diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, or lung disease have a greater risk of developing complications from the flu.
Treatment & Prevention of the Flu
The flu is commonly treated with bed rest and increased fluids, and most people recover from the flu without medical care. In some cases, antiviral medication such as Tamiflu or Relenza may be prescribed. These medications may help to shorten the length of the illness and help prevent serious complications from occurring.
The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for adults and children 6 months and older. In addition to protecting individuals, when healthy people get vaccinated, it helps to decrease the spread of flu and protect people who are at high risk of serious complications from the flu.
In addition, people are advised to stay home from work, school, or other activities when they are sick, to alleviate the spread of germs.