Overview of common cold
The common cold is a viral illness that affects persons of all ages. There are many viruses responsible for the cold. There has been a lot of research done for a cure for this condition, but until now, there has been little progress except for some symptomatic relief. The general trend is that it is self-limiting and whether it is treated or not, it stays for a period of a week. On other words, it is commented as, ‘with medication this condition will be cured by 1 week, but without medication, it will be cured by 7 days.’
Common Cold: How, What and Why?
Cold is usually spread by person to person transmission by cough and sneezing in confined spaces. The symptoms of a common cold are comes with a runny nose, tickly throat leading to cough and sneezing, but generally does not affect other parts of the body. There is only involvement of the upper respiratory tract. Usually, there is a headache due to the stuffy feeling and frequent blowing of the nose. Sometimes a cold can progress to involve the sinuses and thus lead to sinusitis. Cold makes one feel very sick and miserable. It causes more discomfort than any serious damage. Many viruses are believed to be responsible for the common cold.
Treatment Options for common cold
Common cold is an illness that prompts frequent use of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications and alternative remedies. A cold can be treated at home with OTC medications. The choice of medication depends more on the symptoms that the condition. It depends on what troubles the person most. If for instance, the congestion in the nose is more severe than the other symptoms, a nasal decongestant would be the choice. If there is nasal congestion along with frequent sneezing, a combination of a decongestant with an antihistamine would help. Every person will have his or her own choice of what symptoms he would like to get rid of. The right combination can be picked up depending on the symptom and severity. Some of the options available are
- Analgesics (pain relieving medications) are used to relieve headaches. The OTC drugs for these medications that are commonly used are aspirin, acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Decongestants—these are available OTC and can provide much needed symptomatic relief from running nose, stuffy nose etc. Some of the common decongestants are psuedoephedrine and nasal spray decongestants such as phenylephrine or oxymetolazone. Among all the therapies available to provide symptomatic relief from common cold, studies have shown decongestants to be better than the rest.1
- Antihistamines—These are used broadly to treat symptoms of all kinds of allergic conditions. They are available OTC, and by prescription. Some are also available that have a decongestant added to the antihistamine. These can be either sedating or nonsedating. The nonsedating ones are the oral medications like loratadine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, cetirizine, levocetirizine and a nasal spray such as azelastine. There are older anihistamines like diphenhydramine, brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine and clemastine. These are equally effective but because of their sedating ability, these drugs must be used with caution especially if work involves concentration like operating machinery or driving etc.
- Cough preparations—Dextromethorphan may be beneficial in adults with cough, however, its effectiveness has not been proven in children and adolescents.2,3 Codeine and hydrocodone have not been shown to effectively treat cough caused by the common cold, although they have been shown to be effective in treating cough caused by other conditions. Newer nonsedating antihistamines are ineffective against cough.2 Bisolvon and Letosteine (mucolytics) were found to be effective for cough in some studies. Guaiphenesin, an expectorant has also been shown to be effective.3
- Topical ipratropium, a prescription anticholinergic, has been shown to relieve nasal symptoms in older children and adults. Antibiotics have not been shown to improve symptoms or shorten illness duration in common cold.2
- Other treatment options—Some of the home remedies have long been believed to provide much needed symptomatic relief from common cold. Most of these options are designed to increase the body’s natural immunity. Hot water with lemon juice and honey have been found to increase the well- being in a person suffering from cold. Inhalation of steam has been found to decrease nasal secretions and improve the symptoms.
General Tips to Ease the Suffering in Common Cold
Some of these tips will help in ease the suffering in people with common cold.
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take good rest. The body needs rest to rejuvenate. Get a day off from the school/office/work and relax.
- Eat fresh vegetables and drink fresh fruit juices.
- Eat food rich in zinc like pumpkin seeds, oysters and shellfish. Zinc has been found to provide relief in the symptoms.
- If lots of people in office or school or workplace are suffering from cold take zinc and/or vitamin C lozenges frequently. Vitamin C is believed to boost the body’s defense systems.
- If you have runny nose, use disposable tissues to remove the secretions. Use of a handkerchief is unhygienic because the secretions are still there.
- Avoid traveling using public transport during peak hours. This will spread the virus around and the congested air will do no good to you.
- Barrett B, Endrizzi S, Andreoli P, Barlow S, Zhang Z. Clinical significance of common cold treatment: Professionals’ opinions. WMJ. 2007; 106(8): 473–480.
- Simasek M, Blandino DA. Treatment of the common cold. Am Fam Physician. 2007; 75(4): 515–520.
- Arroll B. Non-antibiotic treatments for upper-respiratory tract infections (common cold). Respir Med. 2005; 99(12): 1477–1484.