You know how it starts – a child in the family, or a coworker, is coughing or sniffling. Soon, you may find you have a sore throat or runny nose. Say hello to the common cold.
Luckily, despite the annoyance it brings, the common cold usually runs its course in about 7 to 10 days.
The typical symptoms for colds include a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches, and body aches. Colds tend to be more prevalent in the winter and spring, but they can occur all year long.
Since adults catch an average of two or three colds each year, it’s important to know some simple things everyone can do to reduce the risk of coming down with a cold – and they’re easy to follow.
- Wash your hands often. Use soap and water and wash for a minimum of 20 seconds. If soap and water are not accessible, use an alcohol-based sanitizer
- Avoid close contact with people who have colds
- Don’t touch your face with unwashed hands
- Because viruses that cause colds spread from an infected person through the air and close personal contact, following the steps above is critically important.
During the cold season, you might even consider avoiding shaking hands with others to reduce your risk. Care should also be taken when using doorknobs or touching surfaces that might have respiratory viruses lingering on them.
Because of the easy spread of viruses, it’s important to cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your arm, covering your nose and mouth completely.
Here are some extra tips to follow if you already have a cold:
- If you’re sick, stay home. If your children are sick, keep them away from school or daycare, to prevent further spread of the virus.
- Take a break from hugging, kissing or shaking hands while you’re sick
- Completely cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Wash your hands often
- Disinfect surfaces and objects you touch, such as doorknobs
You may not need to see a physician if you have a mild cold. While there’s no cure, you should get plenty of rest and drink fluids to keep hydrated. While over-the-counter medicines may ease some of your symptoms, they won’t speed the healing process.
Be sure to contact your child’s pediatrician before giving nonprescription cold medicines. Some over-the-counter medications may not be suitable for young children, and you must be particularly careful with dosing.
It is suggested that you call your pediatrician or physician if you or your child experiences:
- Cold symptoms that last more than 10 days
- Cold symptoms that seem unusual or especially severe
- If your child is younger than 3 months and has a fever or appears lethargic
Colds and flu may have similar symptoms, but it is often difficult to tell the difference between the two illnesses without medical intervention. The flu is caused by an influenza virus, which can cause worse symptoms than a typical cold.
Flu may include fever or chills, cough, runny nose, body aches, sore throat, headaches, and fatigue. While there is no vaccine or shot for a common cold, physicians recommend people receive the annual flu vaccination for whatever strain is particularly virulent.
The Centers for Disease Control advises that people with weaker immune systems, asthma or respiratory conditions may be at particular
risk for more serious illness such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Those people should take extra care during the cold and flu season. Protective masks are readily available in most health facilities, or even for purchase, and can be worn in public as an extra level of protection.