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Given that it is so common, why is a cold so difficult to treat and cure? After all, it’s been around, probably, as long as mankind – in some form or the other. Yet, getting a cold is the most miserable experience a person can suffer from. It’s not dangerous – unless it turns into influenza, lung congestion or pneumonia. It’s not totally debilitating – it’s uncomfortable enough to not want to go to school, to work or do some chores yet not so much that we should take to our beds! What then is the common cold? Why does it lay vast swathes of the population low? And, what is the best way to treat a cold?

What is the common cold?

To quote doctors who we spoke to, “The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract — basically the nose and throat. It is usually harmless, although it may not feel that way. The runny or stuffy nose, sore throat and coughs, the watery eyes, sneezing and congestion — all make the sufferer feel really, really miserable. In fact, since any one of more than 100 viruses can cause a common cold – the signs and symptoms tend to vary greatly. Most people recover from a common cold in about a week or two but if symptoms persist, see your doctor.” That kind of sums it up! And, why do many of us suffer from it, generally at the same time? Because, while it’s not a deadly and dangerous disease, it is infectious – passed on from person to person via sneezing, coughing and getting close to each other…

The common symptoms of the common cold

If you catch a cold, you can expect to be sick for one to two weeks. What are the symptoms that will make you feel so ill and so miserable?

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy or sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Slight body ache
  • A mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild fatigue

How do you treat the common cold?

Treating the common cold is not rocket science. It’s largely common sense and generally consists of home remedies. Nothing can cure a cold as such, but there are some remedies that could help to ease your symptoms and keep you from feeling so miserable.

  • Stay hydrated: Water, juice, clear soups, warm water with lemon and honey – all help to loosen congestion and prevent dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas, which can make dehydration worse
  • Rest: Your body needs to heal so no running around – which will also help to prevent infecting others
  • Soothe a sore throat: A saltwater gargle can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat. Children younger than six years won’t be able to gargle properly. You can also try ice chips, sore throat sprays, lozenges or hard candy – but be careful about giving hard candy and lozenges to kids younger than five years old
  • Fight stuffiness: Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays can help relieve stuffiness and congestion. Saline nasal sprays may be used in older children
  • Pain relief: For children six months and younger, only give acetaminophen. For children older than six months, give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Adults can take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Sipping warm liquids: A cold remedy used in many cultures…drinking warm liquids such as chicken soup, tea or warm apple juice may be soothing and may ease congestion by increasing mucus flow
  • Humidify the air: A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can add moisture to your home, which sometimes helps to loosen congestion
  • Try over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medications: For adults and children (older than age five), OTC decongestants, antihistamines and pain relievers might offer some symptomatic relief. But, these won't prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and some have side effects. Take the  medications only as directed. Some cold remedies contain multiple ingredients, such as a decongestant plus a pain reliever, so read labels very carefully, to make sure you're not taking too much of any medication.

Although colds are usually minor, they can make you feel miserable. The best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Rest, drink fluids and keep the air around you moist. The nasal discharge may become thicker and yellow or green in colour as the common cold runs its course. What makes a cold different from other viral infections is that you typically  won't have a high fever. You're also unlikely to experience significant fatigue from a common cold.


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