Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Common Cold

I've managed to get sick, so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the common cold.

A model of the rhinovirus, one of the viruses that can cause the common cold
The common cold is an incredibly common ailment, causing more than one billion cases in the United States alone each year. It is the number one reason that people miss work or school. Though you can get a cold at any time, they are more common in the winter, thus "cold and flu season." The common cold is easily transmissible, through miniscule droplets released when someone who has a cold coughs, blows their nose, or sneezes. Generally, someone will only be contagious for a few days, and symptoms will appear within three days of contact.

An uncovered sneeze can spread disease
Symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion, a scratchy throat, and a runny nose, but can also include a sore throat, cough, muscle aches, decreased appetite, postnasal drip, and headaches. Treatment is basically riding the virus out and treating symptoms. Over the counter medication can do wonders to make a person feel better, including cough suppressants. Antivirals have so far proven to be completely useless in treating the common cold.  Antibiotics are only suggested if a secondary infection occurs. Complications of the common cold can include bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia, and ear infections.

Chicken soup is good for the cold
Taking vitamin C regularly can prevent your cold from being very long, and taking zinc when you first show symptoms can also shorten the length. Echinacea is sometimes suggested to help prevent you from contracting the virus and also for easing symptoms, but studies have shown that it really doesn't make any difference. Chicken soup is also a common home remedy, and it is believed that the combination of heat, fluids, and salt may be fairly effective. It is unusual for someone to not make a full recovery. If symptoms last more than a week a visit to the doctor is suggested.

Preventive measures are pretty straightforward, including regular hand washing, disinfection, and use of hand sanitizer. A decreased immune symptom can put you at risk for this virus, and ways to improve your immune system include avoiding cigarette smoke, using antibiotics only when necessary, drinking plenty of fluids, eating yogurt, getting enough sleep, and breastfeeding your children. Kids who are not breastfed are, on average, far more sickly than those who are breastfed.

Source is PubMed Health from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under a creative common license or are copyright free: one, two. three


  1. I knew there was another reason I didn't like soccer so much.... the rhinovirus looks like a vile little soccer ball.

  2. It really does.

    I forgot to mention that the reason why we don't have a cure (or vaccine) for the common cold is due to the fact that it mutates insanely rapidly. We're luck it's such a mild virus, really.