What Causes The Common Cold
The common cold is a mild infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways. It can cause a blocked nose followd by a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and cough. In adults and lder children it will usually last for about a week while your body fights off the infection. In younger children the common cold can last up to two weeks.
A common cold is caused by viruses which attack the lining of the nose and throat, inflaming hese areas. As they become inflamed they produce more mucus, resulting in a runny nose and sneezing. There are more than 200 types of viruses that can cause the common cold so it is possible to have several colds, one after the other, caused by different viruses.
On average adults have two to four colds a year whilst children have three to eight as their immune system is more vulnerable to infection. Colds are more frequent in winter, probably because people tend to stay indoors more and be in close contact with each other.
How Does The Common Cold Spread And How Can I stop it?
A common cold spreads through:
- Direct contact when you sneeze or cough. Tiny droplets of fluid containing the cold virus are launched into the air and can be breathed in by others.
- By indirect contact when you sneeze onto a door handle and someone else touches it a few minutes later and then they touch their nose or mouth.
You can help to stop the spread by washing your hands regularly and properly, particularly after touching your nose and mouth and before handling food. For instructions on the best way to wash your hands ask a member of our staff.
Always sneeze and cough into tissues as this will help prevent virus containing droplets entering the air, throw away tissues immediately and wash your hands. Clean surfaces regularly to keep them germ free. use your own cup, plates, cutlery and kitchen utensils and use disposable paper towels to dry your hands and face rather than shared towels.
Treating A Common Cold
You should be able to treat cold symptoms yourself using over the counter medicines with some simple advice from our pharmacy team. These treatments include:
- Painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol which are the only type of medication known to be effective in treating colds
- Decongestants which are designed to help relieve congestion. However, don’t use them for more than seven days because iveruse can make the congestion worse
- Zinc supplements, taken within a day of the symptoms starting, will sped up recovery and lessen the severity of the symptoms, although long term use can cause side effects
- Drink plenty of fluids to replace what is lost through sweating
- Get plenty of rest
- Eat a healthy diet including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Use of steam inhalation, gargling with salt water, vapour rubs, menthol sweets and saline drops may all help too
You should avoid antihistamines and cough syrups, as there is no evidence they work on a common cold. You should also avoid using antibiotics because the cause is viral and not bacterial, they may cause side effects and overuse increases antibiotic resistance leading to superbugs such as MRSA spreading.
When Should I see My GP?
You only really need to see your GP if;
- Your symptoms last longer than 3 weeks
- You have a high temperature of 39C
- You cough up blood stained phlegm
- You feel chest pain
- You have breathing difficulties
- You experience severe swelling of your lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
For further information on which service you require see our choose well page.
Top Tips For Parents
- Encourage your child to rest and drink plenty of fluids
- Raise the head of their bed by putting books under the legs if they are struggling to breathe because of a blocked nose
- Give them paracetamol OR Ibuprofen and follow the dosage instructions on the packet
- A warm moist atmosphere can ease their breathing so use a vaporiser to humidify the air
- Keep the room at a comfortable temperature and don’t let them get too hot
- What causes the Common Cold?
- How many different types are there?
- How do colds spread?
- How can I prevent a cold spreading?
- What are the usual symptoms?
- How can I treat a cold?
- What over the counter remedies are there?
- What medicines should I avoid?
- When should I visit my GP?
- How can I help my child if they get a cold?
[expand title=”Quiz Answers”]
- Direct contact eg: sneezing or indirect contact eg: sharing towels, cups, etc.
- Wash your hands, use tissues, clean surfaces regularly, son’t share cups, cutlery and use paper towels
- Blocked or runny nose, sneezing, coughing, generally feeling unwell
- Get plenty of rest, drink lots, eat healthily
- Use painkillers, decongestants, zinc supplements, steam inhalation
- Antihistimines, cough syrups and antibiotics
- If your cold lasts more than 3 weeks, your temperature is over 39C, your phlegm is blood stained, you have chest pain or breathing difficulties, you have severe swelling of your lymph nodes
- Encourage them to rest and drink lots, give paracetamol or ibuprofen, keep the atmosphere warm and moist