COMMON COLD - a patient's guide
- The common cold is the most common infectious illness
- Colds are mainly caused by rhinoviruses
- They are very contagious and spread by coughing and
- Most adults will get between two and four colds a year,
children may get more
- There is no proven cure for a cold but some treatments can
- Over the counter medicines are not believed to help children
with a cold
- Some drugs have been shown to prevent colds, but only if they
are taken before symptoms develop.
What is it?
The common cold is considered the most common illness in the
Colds are very contagious and most adults will get between two and
four a year. Children are estimated to get them up to eight times a
They are spread by coughing and sneezing, and are largely caused
The common cold is more mild than the flu which is caused by other
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of a cold are a runny nose, sore throat,
coughing, sneezing and feeling off colour.
You may also have a headache, sore eyes, and a fever in some
A cold can last a few days to up to 10 days.
It is important to get medical advice if you are concerned or not
improving as other more serious illnesses can start out with similar
See your doctor if you develop an ear infection (pain), chest
pain, or have difficulty breathing. Severe headache or very high
fevers would also be reasons to seek medical advice sooner.
What can be done to help?
There is a saying that a cold lasts 7 days if it is treated and 7
days if it is not. There is no proven cure for a cold, despite
extensive research to find one.
Relief of the symptoms is the main beneficial treatment.
Paracetamol can be used to reduce discomfort. Cough medicine can help
to control coughing.
Breathing in steam from a bowl may help to relieve a blocked
Gargling aspirin can help to relieve a sore throat.
Don't give aspirin to children under 12 (rare association with a
serious disorder called Reye's syndrome).
Many over the counter pharmacy remedies are not believed to work
in under five years olds but are effective in adolescents and
Potential treatments for the common cold have been developed.
These include: antihistamines, inhaled anticholinergics, adrenergic
agonists (potent decongestants), and zinc supplements.
There continues to be debate over the role of vitamin C in
treating colds. One review of studies of vitamin C found that the
vitamin reduced the length and symptoms of a cold by 23 percent,
however, an ideal dose has not been identified.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin can help
relieve headaches and associated aches and pains.
Antibiotics are only believed to be effective if the patient also
has a bacterial infection.
How can it be prevented?
The common cold is very contagious and avoiding one is
A strong immune system can help to prevent infection, and this
requires exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleep.
Antiviral drugs like interferon alfa-2b have been shown to be
somewhat effective at preventing a cold, but only if they are taken
before the cold symptoms develop.
Aqueous iodine applied to fingers has also been shown to help
prevent a cold in susceptible groups, but this is considered
impractical because the substance stains the fingers. Another similar
substance, which does not stain, could be developed in the
Other drugs called mast cell stablisers have shown good results in
preliminary trials but there have been no large studies undertaken to
See your doctor if the illness does not improve after a few days,
or if more severe symptoms develop.
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