For Greene County News
DAYTON – More than 200 viruses are to blame for the estimated 1 billion common cold cases each year in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). With numbers that large, it’s no wonder the common cold is so, well, common.
“The common cold is a viral infection that is highly contagious,” said Angelia Mickle, DNP, with Jamestown Family Medicine, a Premier HealthNet practice. “It is estimated that children will get up to seven colds a year, resulting in 22 million missed school days. Adults can expect to get up to two to three colds a year. In the fall and winter months, the majority of cases we see walking in our office are for the common cold.”
The common cold is caused by hundreds of different viruses of which three are mainly to blame. Rhinovirus accounts for 40 percent of cold cases, followed by the coronavirus which accounts for 20 percent and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) which makes up another 10 percent. Symptoms of the cold can vary, but usually include sneezing, sore throat, coughing and congestion and mild fatigue. A cold can lasts up to 14 days.
“Unlike many other illnesses, the average person can work through a cold or go to school while they are fighting the illness,” Ms. Mickle said. “Not many people could afford to miss the amount of days from work or school that it would take to fully recover from the minor illness. However, it’s for this reason that the cold is so quickly spread among groups of people.”
There is no cure for the common cold, and medications such as antibiotics do not make a difference since a cold is a virus, not a bacterial infection. The best thing an individual can do is treat the symptoms and know the signs that may signal if additional medical attention is needed.
Ms. Mickle says a person’s fever is a good indicator. Infants with a fever over 100.4 and children who maintain a fever over 102.5 for more than three days should see their physician. Temperatures lower than those markers are normal for a cold and actually the body’s natural way of fighting off the infection, Ms. Mickle added.
Despite the prevalence of the common cold, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their risk of catching it or spreading it to others.
Good lifestyle choices – Supplements such as Echinacea, Zinc and Vitamin C have been the go-to for many individuals looking for a way to prevent colds or shorten their duration. However, research has yet to confirm they make a difference, Ms. Mickle said. Making smart lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, healthy eating and regular exercise may be more powerful to help prevent colds, she said.
Be diligent during cold season – Wash hands regularly, and not just after using the restroom or before meals. Germs are everywhere and can live up to 24 hours on a surface and 15 minutes on a used tissue.
Practice proper etiquette – Teach children to cough or sneeze into an elbow and not into their hands. Be careful not to touch the face especially the eyes, nose or mouth.
Those who suffer from a common cold can take the following steps to alleviate symptoms:
Pain medications – Tylenol can be used to treat headaches, minor muscle aches and sore throats. It also can help bring down low-grade temperatures that may interrupt one’s ability to rest. Adult caregivers should always be mindful not to administer aspirin to small children, Ms. Mickle said.
Antihistamines – The cold virus works by attacking the lining of the nose and throat. The body’s natural response is to fight off the virus. This reaction causes inflammation and increased secretions, Ms. Mickle said. Over-the-counter antihistamines can be used to help reduce this response.
Hydrate and gargle – Make sure to drink plenty of fluids and gargle with warm water and salt to help soothe sore throats.
Use humidifiers wisely – Ms. Mickle said the use of humidifiers can be helpful, but need to be used properly. Humidifiers that are not cleaned regularly can actually become a breeding ground for harmful allergens such as mold.
For more information on the common cold or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.