The disease we call the common cold is actually a collection of lesser diseases that they can cause one of nearly 200 different viruses. The common cold is usually limited to the nose and throat, but viruses can infect the throat, causing laryngitis, and lungs, causing acute bronchitis. Viral infections sometimes pave the way for more serious bacterial infections of the throat, ears or lungs.
We all get cold at some point; we probably got out first cold in the first year of our life. For the next year or two, children are very prone to viral infections of the nose; after that, they become immune to many viruses that are common in the environment. The frequency of this disease is increasing again in the first years of primary school because the new environment contains new types of viruses. Over the years people acquire a stronger immune system, so the cold less and less.
The symptoms to some extent depend on the virus that caused the common cold. There is one or more major symptoms: sneezing, tearing, sore throat (tonsillitis), hoarseness, cough, and most runny nose. Nasal discharge is initially watery, then thickens and becomes greenish. Headache may appear, too, and you might have a fever; fever may cause shivering and chills. Very high fever and pain throughout the body are likely symptoms of flu.
Everyone will eventually catch cold, maybe once or twice a year. No one knows exactly how this happens. It seems that one of the main ways of spreading the infection is a hand touch, but viruses are spread by air and while you cough or sneeze, so that air is inhaled. Colds occur far less often in isolated environments where everyone soon becomes immune to viruses that circulate; however, with an arrival of a “newcomers” from another place, the common cold appears, too.
Beside the fact that there are so many different viruses that cause colds, viruses themselves are constantly changing (mutating) while multiplying, and therefore new types of viruses constantly appear; viruses against which we have not yet built up a defense mechanism.
Common cold often disappears in two to three days; even bacterial infection, which causes the common cold, shouldn’t last longer than a week. But, since the respiratory tract is a series of cavities connected with corridors, the infection can spread to the middle ear, sinuses, larynx, trachea and lungs.
What to do?
Anyone who has a cold should stay at home and, if possible, separate from others. This is mainly due to other people. Contact your doctor if a cold lasts for more than 10 days, or if it appears that the infection has spread beyond the nose and throat, or if you are prone to bronchitis and ear infections.
Self-help: there is no cure for the common cold, but there are some measures to relieve symptoms. Stay at home in a warm (but not overheated) room and humidify the air with an apparatus for humidifying the air or by some other means; the steam of boiling water from the basin will help, too. Drink lots of liquid, especially fruit juices, and take one to two aspirins before going to bed so you can sleep better.
Cold medicine that can be purchased without a prescription and nasal sprays can temporarily ease the situation. However, you should take these drugs moderately and don’t expect them to cure your cold.
Professional help: it makes no sense to ask the doctor to treat a cold in otherwise healthy person. Your doctor will generally not give an antibiotic because the antibiotic does not work on viruses. Not just that; antibiotics could even worsen the situation because of the side effects such as diarrhea and swelling of the mouth and throat. Anyone who is prone to frequent attacks of bronchitis or ear infections should go to the doctor at the first sign of a cold. An antibiotic will somewhat protect those people from the complications of secondary bacterial infection that often follows a viral infection.