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Understanding the Common Cold

  • Nov 21, 2019
  • Wellbeing

Women In Bed Blowing Nose Having A Cold And Fever

Suffering with a common cold can take its toll on anybody. The combination of a fever, chills and nasal congestion isn’t pleasant. Although a cold can hit us at any time of the year, colds tend to occur more during the autumn and winter seasons. This could be due to us spending more time indoors and breathing in re-circulated air.  

If you’re trying to avoid the bugs, here’s some more information on the common cold and how to keep yourself fighting fit.

Is the Common Cold a Viral or Bacterial Infection?

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system. However, a secondary bacterial infection may develop during or following a cold. As they can have very similar symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, fever, inflammation or fatigue, it’s difficult to differentiate between them.  

Healthline reports that both infections can spread from person to person by close interaction, contact with infected bodily fluids and touching contaminated surfaces.

A key difference between bacteria and viruses is the way they survive. Viruses require a host (living cell or tissue) to enable them to multiply, whereas bacteria can live in many different types of environment

Another key difference between them is that a bacterial infection can be treated with prescribed antibiotics, but a virus has no specific treatment.

With more than 200 viruses that can cause a common cold, our bodies cannot build up resistance to all of them. That’s why they are so common and often return.

What Could We Do If We Get a Cold?

With antibiotics having no effect on the common cold, it’s important we know what treatment can relieve our symptoms whilst our body fights the infection.

Hydration – When our bodies are fighting infection, they could become dehydrated because we lose a lot of liquid from sneezing, congestion and constantly blowing our noses. Dehydration could make the cold symptoms worse.  Water is the best option and hot drinks can provide relief from congestion by increasing mucus flow.

Gargling – Gargling with salt water can ease the swelling in our throats and loosens the mucus. The saltwater could also help kill bacteria in our throat and keep it clean. The NHS recommends dissolving half a teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water then gargle the solution and spit it out, this can be repeated as often as required.

Steam – Breathing in steam could help soothe the nose and throat tissue. To loosen the congestion, Healthline recommends sitting with a towel over your head over a bowl of hot water and inhaling the steam. The warm steam may help ease the feeling of irritation as well as thining the mucus in the sinuses.

Rest – Getting plenty of rest is important as it will help the immune system fight off the infection. Propping our bodies up with pillows could help to lessen our congestion and help us to sleep.

Eating – When we have a cold, it is essential we choose the right foods. Eating junk food could make us feel worse and lower the response of our immune system. Chicken soup is widely recommended as it’s an easy-to-eat source of vitamins, minerals and proteins. Citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons could further help decrease inflammation and boost immunity. This is due to their high levels of vitamin C and flavonoids (antioxidants).

Medication­ – Over the counter medication won’t be able to fight the virus, but it could help us feel better. Decongestants could help to ease nasal congestion and antihistamines could help to prevent sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes. The NHS recommends painkillers (like paracetamol or ibuprofen) to ease aches and lower a temperature, but warn not to use cough and cold medicines at the same time as we could easily go over the recommended daily dose.

How Can We Prevent Getting a Cold?

A common cold can be hard to avoid, especially when people around us are already suffering. Here are a few tips on how to avoid catching a cold:

Hygiene – By washing our hands as much a possible we could prevent viruses being easily spread. Even if we are washing our hands regularly, we should try to avoid touching our faces or biting our nails. This is because the virus could enter our respiratory tract through our eyes, nose or mouth. Another way to avoid catching a cold is to disinfect surfaces like our phones or countertops.

Diet – Eating plenty of vitamin-rich fruit and vegetables could help to keep our immune systems strong. The BBC have highlighted that vitamin A is key in keeping the mucosal linings in our nose and lungs strong enough to defend against viruses. Sweet potatoes and beetroot are rich in beta-carotene which our body converts to vitamin A. Deficiencies in vitamin D could lead to a weak immune system. Healthline suggest sunlight, mushrooms, salmon or vitamin D supplements to help increase our intake.

Sleep – Not getting enough sleep could have negative effects on the immune system. Sleep deprivation could lead to physical and mental health problems, one of which being a weak immune system. When we sleep, our bodies release cytokines which help the body fight infection by regulating the immune system.

In addition to the tips above, avoiding close contact with someone infected with a cold could lower our chances of getting infected. Quitting smoking could also help to strengthen our immune system and contribute to good health.  

Treatment of viral infections relies on treating the symptoms whilst the infection runs its course. A common cold should be gone within a week or two. If it lasts for more than 3 weeks the NHS recommends seeing your GP. Colds are easy to get, but by practicing good hygiene and taking precautions we could limit our risk.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.