Sneezing, runny nose, scratchy throat – everyone knows the first signs of a cold, probably the most common illness known to exist. Although the common cold is usually mild, with symptoms lasting one to two weeks, it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work.
How common is it?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 22 million school days are lost annually in the United States due to the common cold. In the course of a year, people in the United States suffer 1 billion colds, according to some estimates.
Children have about six to ten colds a year. One important reason why they are so common in children is because they are often in close contact with each other in daycare centers and schools. In families with children in school, the number of colds per child can be as high as 12 a year.
Adults average about two to four colds a year, although the range varies widely. Women, especially those age 20 to 30, have more colds than men, possibly because of their closer contact with children. On average, people older than 60 have fewer than one cold a year.
What causes the common cold?
The common cold is caused by a virus. More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the common cold. Some viruses, such as rhinoviruses, seldom produce serious illnesses. Other viruses, such as parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus, produce only mild infections in adults, but can cause severe lower respiratory infections in young children.
Symptoms of the common cold
Cold symptoms usually begin two to three days after infection. Symptoms often include
- Mucus buildup in your nose.
- Difficulty breathing through your nose.
- Swelling of your sinuses.
- Sore throat.
Transmission of the common cold occurs by one of two methods
- Touching your skin or environmental surfaces, such as telephones and stair rails, that have cold germs on them and then touching your eyes or nose.
- Inhaling drops of mucus full of cold germs from the air when a contagious person coughs or sneezes.
Common cold remedies
It seems like every day a new “Common cold remedy” is being marketed to prevent, cure, or shorten the length of the common cold (see Common Cold Myths). Despite these marketing claims, there is only one cure – time. Therefore, remedies are focused on providing relief of symptoms as the body fights the virus.
Common cold treatment options include
- Resting in bed.
- Drinking plenty of fluids.
- Gargling with warm salt water.
- Using throat sprays or lozenges.
- Using a cool–mist humidifier.
- Taking common cold medicine.
There are several ways you can reduce your chances of getting a cold.
Common cold prevention suggestions include
- Washing your hands regularly.
- Keeping your hands away from your nose, mouth, and eyes.
- Using disinfectants.
- Limiting exposure to infected people.
- Practicing healthy habits.
Each year, millions of school and work days are missed because of colds and flu. How you can best treat your condition depends on what is ailing you. Since these diseases share many of the same symptoms, they’re sometimes hard to tell apart.
To further complicate the problem, many people get bad allergies in the fall, when ragweed pollen is at its peak in many areas, and winter can bring its own allergies as people spend more time indoors around pet dander and house dust mites.
Cure for the common cold
At this point, scientists have not been successful in developing a cure for the common cold. Don’t believe claims about a product that supposedly claims to be a cure.
Searching for a cure will continue to be an active area of common cold research, but it will require a substantial amount of time and effort.