Speaking of Health – The common cold

By Gilda Morales, ANP, DC

Today’s column deals with the common cold.  As we have all heard before, “if they can land a man on the moon, why can’t they cure the common cold?”  As we approach cold season, it is once again time to debunk long held beliefs about this affliction.

The common cold is a result of the rhinovirus—(rhino—from the Greek work for nose).  It is not the result of going outside with wet hair, sleeping with an open window or getting stuck in a rainstorm.  It is extremely contagious and is easily transmitted by air droplets, or fomite transmission, which occurs by touching an object that has been touched by someone who has a cold, or by direct contact with someone who has a cold.  Infection occurs quickly, with the virus sticking to the mucus membranes of the nose within 15 minutes of coming in contact with the virus, with symptoms starting within 2 days of infection.  The virus can live up to 3 hours outside human contact, and once contaminated, the infected person

Everyone has experienced the more common symptoms of the common cold—sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, cough, and sometimes muscle aches, fatigue, and loss of appetite.  If a fever is present, it is more than likely not a cold, and is found more commonly in the flu.  Children may have six to twelve colds per year and are usually more prevalent in the fall and winter, usually in September to April.  This is attributed to temperatures during these seasons, which are more preferential to the rhinovirus.

The best way to avoid infection is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water and to avoid touching the mouth or nose, the most common ports of entry for the virus

Another well-known saying about colds is that it usually lasts one week if you go to the doctor and 7 days if you don’t.  This is actually not far from the truth since it is a virus.  Colds are one of the leading reasons for visits to the clinic, and many patients request “shots,” of antibiotics, which are completely worthless in treating the cold, which is a virus.  The best that we can do is to treat the symptoms, and yes, in children, Vicks vapor rub helps.  In adults, cold preparations containing pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen or Aleve and some herbal supplements such as Echinacea may improve symptoms in adults.  Taking vitamin C also reduced the duration of cold symptoms in children and adults.  Decongestants and antihistamines as well as inhaled Atrovent may also improve cold symptoms in adults, but the best treatment is patience, since the cold is self-limiting and will go away in about 7 to 10 days.