The common cold, also known simply as a cold, is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) though the sinus and larynx may also be affected. It’s usually harmless, although it might not feel that way. Treatments primarily involve medications and other therapies for symptomatic relief, such as sore throat, fatigue and coughing. People usually recover in seven to ten days, but some symptoms may last up to three weeks. Occasionally those with other health problems may develop pneumonia.
The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the symptoms of the common cold. An estimated 30-35% of all adult colds are caused by rhinoviruses.
The common cold virus is typically transmitted via airborne droplets (aerosols), direct contact with infected nasal secretions, or fomites (contaminated objects). The viruses may survive for prolonged periods in the environment (over 18 hours for rhinoviruses) and can be picked up by people’s hands and subsequently carried to their eyes or nose, where infection occurs.
Common cold symptoms come on gradually within a few days after exposure to the virus. They include:
- a blocked or runny nose
- a sore throat
- muscle aches
- loss of appetite
- a raised temperature
- pressure in your ears and face
- loss of taste and smell
The symptoms are the same in adults and children. Sometimes symptoms last longer in children. Most recover after a few days, but the cough may linger for longer.
Prevention and protection
Colds are spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.
A person with a cold can start spreading it from a few days before their symptoms begin until the symptoms have finished.
The best ways to avoid catching a cold are:
- washing your hands with warm water and soap
- not sharing towels or household items (like cups) with someone who has a cold
- use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
- not touching your eyes or nose in case you have come into contact with the virus – it can infect the body this way
- staying fit and healthy
The flu vaccine helps prevent flu but not colds.
Since colds are caused by a viral infection, antibiotics don’t help and there is no specific treatment. Symptomatic relief can be found through over the counter medications and other therapies.
It is important to:
- Get plenty of rest and sleep
- drink fluids to maintain hydration
- stay warm
The pharmacy can help with OTC medications:
- decongestant sprays or tablets to relieve a blocked nose
- painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease aches or lower a temperature
- Gargling with salt water can soothe a sore throat.
Be careful not to use cough and cold medicines if you’re taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets, as it’s easy to take more than the recommended dose.
Some are not suitable for children, babies and pregnant women.
When to consult a doctor
Contact a doctor if:
- you have had a fever for more than four days
- the fever returns after a few days
- you have pain in the ears, trachea or sinuses.
How APPOTEK can help
APPOTEK can help with colds. In the initial consultation, a nurse or doctor will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms. You may then be prescribed treatment or referred for further examination. If your child is affected, they should also attend the consultation.