A common cold is a type of upper respiratory tract infection, which usually happens due to different strains of viruses. It is usually harmless and people tend to recover on their own in most cases. A common cold is generally spread when people come into contact with virus-laden air-borne droplets or by directly touching the secretions of the infected individual.
Although close to 200 types of virus can cause the common cold infection, it is the rhinovirus that contributes to almost 30-40% of infections every year. Infection due to rhinovirus peaks most from September to November and March to May. Other viruses that can cause common cold include a respiratory syncytial virus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza virus. Since more and more strains of viruses keep developing, the human cannot completely develop resistance against all of them and hence fall prey to one or more infections throughout the year. In a survey, it was found that school-going children can often have 6 to 12 colds per year while adolescents and adults typically have 2 to 4 common cold infections per year.
The most common cause for cold is due to the rhinovirus although other viruses bear the risk. The virus usually enters the body through the orifices of the mouth, nose, or eyes and can easily spread to other individuals through sneeze, cough, or talks. It can also spread through direct contact with the infected individual or sharing contaminated objects like towels, utensils, doorknobs, hairbrushes, etc.
The risk of a common cold is more in children younger than 6 years. It is also commonly diagnosed in people having a weaker immune system or having any other co-morbid condition. Although a common cold infection can happen at any time of the year, it is more commonly witnessed at the onset of seasonal changes like early summer or fall or winter. Even smoking aggravates the risk of getting a common cold infection.
The common signs and symptoms usually develop 3-4 days after you have been exposed to the virus and may vary from person to person. These include:
- Low-grade fever
- Stuffy nose or runny nose
- Sore or scratchy throat
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
- General debility
If the common cold infection becomes severe and still left untreated for a long time, it can lead to acute ear infection, i.e. otitis media, asthma, acute sinusitis, or other respiratory infections like pneumonia, bronchitis, strep throat, etc.
Diagnosis And Treatment
Although in most cases, the virus usually runs its course and subdue on its own once the human body develops antibodies against it, it is important to seek medical attention if you notice that the fever is lasting for 5 days or more and is usually quite high greater than 101.3 F (38.5 C) and also have shortness of breath, wheezing, headache or sore throat.
The doctor usually does a thorough physical check-up and acknowledges the person’s medical history and travel history to know the exact type of virus one gets infected with so that proper treatment can be provided.
Treatment options usually include pain relievers to provide relief from fever, headache, and sore throat. The doctor may also prescribe for some cough syrups and decongestant nasal sprays or drops.
Although the common cold is extremely contagious, one can evade getting this infection by following a few preventive measures which include:
- Washing hands at regular intervals
- Using tissues to sneeze or cough
- Disinfecting commonly used surfaces
- Using disposable cups and utensils
- Steering clear of infected individuals
- Eating a well-balanced meal
- Getting adequate rest
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