Common Cold: Causes, Prevention and Treatment
Common Health Issues

Common Cold: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

More accurately referred to as an upper respiratory infection, the common cold is the most frequent of all medical maladies. At this moment, an estimated one in every eight people has a cold. It will last from four to seven days, unless complications set in.


Colds often lead to middle-ear infections, laryngitis, bronchitis, and sometimes pneumonia.


Recent findings by medical researchers have put to rest some myths concerning the common cold. For example, there is no benefit in ‘starving,’ a cold. In fact, to fight the microbes causing the infection, the body needs its full complement of essential nutrients.


Another myth is that sneezing and coughing are the primary means by which most colds are spread. In fact, although colds are highly contagious, the beads of moisture in which germs are expelled during coughing and sneezing usually fall to the ground unless they are immediately inhaled by other persons.


Studies have found a much higher number of infection-causing microbes on the hands of people suffering from colds than in the air into which they have been coughing or sneezing.


A third myth is than penicillin and other antibiotics can cure, or at least relieve, the symptoms of a cold. In fact, they are completely ineffective; a cold is not caused by bacteria which antibiotics destroy, but by viruses. Only when cells damaged by viruses become infected by bacteria, can the antibiotics help cure the secondary infection.

Nor can antihistamines bring relief from a true upper respiratory infection. Often, what is mistaken for a cold is actually an allergy, and the symptoms can be relieved by antihistamines. These drugs have several side effects of which the public is generally unaware, though, and should be taken only upon a doctor’s advice.


Preventing Common Cold

Colds are special problem in children, not only because of the potential complications, but also because many childhood diseases start with the symptoms of cold.


Colds can be prevented—but the responsibility rests heavily on the person who already has a cold to keep others from contacting it. People who have a cold virus in its active form spread it to others. It can be transmitted by close contact, by handling contaminated objects such as handkerchiefs, and by using contaminated drinking glasses or utensils.

People who are clustered together in crowds can easily inhale cold germs from those carrying them.


It has long been the consensus among doctors that vitamins could not prevent a cold. But in recent years many responsible and respected researchers and doctors have contended that high doses of vitamin C may prevent common colds or at least reduce their severity.


There is still no proof one way or the other. Advocates of vitamin C recommend very high doses at the very first sign of a cold—from 1,000 to 8,000 milligrams a day, divided into doses taken every three hours.


Chilling lowers the body’s resistance to colds. This varies a great deal in people, some of whom become chilled very easily. Put on warm, dry clothes as you can after becoming wet or chilled.


Unfortunately, most people cannot afford to—or do not want to—call the doctor for ordinary cold. However, there are certain people who must see a doctor because even mild colds can represent a severe threat to their health, possibly to their lives.


A pregnant woman should report a cold to her doctor. So should anyone with one of the following diseases:


Rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease

Chronic bronchitis or bronchiectasis

Bronchial asthma

Kidney disease, especially Bright’s disease and chronic pyelonephritis

Severe liver disease

Severe diabetes

Heart disease severe enough to cause shortness of breath


Severe sinusitis


What to Do When You Get Common Cold

If you possibly can, go to bed as soon as you feel that you are coming down with a cold. Stay there, or at least keep warm and avoid chilling temperatures, until you are past the ‘runny,’ stage.


Drink plenty of liquids and eat moderately. Be careful about blowing your nose so hard that you force infection into the sinuses and ears. If your nose is badly stopped up, ask your doctor to tell you what kind of nose drops to use.


Plain aspirin (or buffered aspirin, if ordinary aspirin upsets your stomach) brings the quickest and safest relief for general discomfort. Take one or two tablets every two to three hours, if necessary.


Protect the other members of your family: smother all coughs and sneezes in a handkerchief or tissue. Put all tissue into a paper bag after using them. The tissues can then be easily disposed of without contaminating anyone else.


See to it that no one handles the objects you have contaminated. If someone must, see that he handles them as little as possible and washes his hands immediately afterwards. Your eating utensils, dishes and so on, should be washed separately and rinsed in scalding water.

Be sure to see a doctor if:

  1. You have a fever that lasts for more than two days or goes above 38°C




2.You have a severe headache that does not respond to aspirin

3.You have chills, a severe cough, chest pains, or blood-stained or rusty-looking sputum

4.Your back, neck or bones ache

5.You ‘ache all over’

6.You have an earache

7.Your cold symptoms do not clear up (you may have hay fever or some other allergy)


Sources and References

Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia

The Common Cold by Terho Heikkinen and Asko Jarvinen

Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common Cold by Harri Hemila and Elizabeth Chalker


Rich Health Editorial Team

Health Research

Rich Health Editorial Team is made up of medical practitioners and experienced writers who provide information for dealing with health issues in a simple and easy-to-understand manner