Cold season is in full swing, we learn a little more about the common cold, how it spreads and how to fight it.
What is the common cold?
The common cold can be caused by any of up to 200 strains of virus which all cause similar symptoms. One of the most common of these is the rhinovirus (rhino is a word of Greek origin, meaning “of the nose”). The virus infects the cells of the upper respiratory tract, causing coughing, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, headache and fever and usually lasts between 1-3 weeks.
Can you catch a cold from being cold?
You can only catch a cold if you come into contact with the virus, so being cold does not necessarily mean that you will catch a cold. However, there is evidence that being cold can lower your immune system and make you more susceptible if you do encounter the virus. Cold season in the UK is generally in the winter, it is believed this is because people become more highly concentrated indoors in the winter, increasing the chances of spread. So here is how to avoid catching a cold.
Wash your hands
The cold can be spread in aerosolised droplets if someone sneezes right on you, but more commonly it is spread by contact with fomites. A fomite is an object or surface upon which the virus has landed and is then touched by someone else. This person then transfers the virus to themselves by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Regular hand washing prevents you from spreading the cold if you have one, and from picking it up if you don’t. It is thought normal soap is just as effective as antibacterial soap as it is the mechanical action of washing which helps to remove the virus.
Keep it covered
Wearing a face mask is thought to reduce the spread of the common cold 😷 , however, it’s not a look many of us are going for. Alternatively making sure you cover your mouth when you cough and quickly disposing of any used tissues reduces the number of viruses expelled into the environment for other people to encounter. For those of us worried about our carbon footprint there now exists a wide variety of recycled and bamboo tissues which are thought to be more eco-friendly.
Take your vitamins
Vitamin C and Zinc are commonly touted as useful to prevent or fight a cold, however, it is uncertain exactly how effective they are, with only some studies showing that they can reduce the duration of a cold. Maintaining a healthy diet full of leafy greens and fresh vegetables is however a vital step in keeping your immune system in top order so that it can fight off any nasties. If you feel your intake may be lacking then this can be addressed by taking a respected brand multivitamin from the chemists. Nothing beats eating well though, and multivitamins do not make up for a poor quality diet.
Sometimes despite taking all these precautions, we still get poorly...It's unavoidable, so here is what to do when you do catch a cold.
Take it easy
Generally getting plenty of exercise and quality sleep helps us to build a strong immune system that can fight any cold virus effectively. If you do catch a cold, however, rest is important to help you heal especially as your sleep is likely to be interrupted by your symptoms. We do not advocate unnecessary sick days, but sometimes it is important to let your body heal and reduce the likelihood of spread to others by chilling at home. Ramp up the hygge factor and enjoy getting cosy.
Over the counter remedies
A cold is caused by a virus so does not respond to antibiotics. In fact, most people with colds should not need to visit the doctor at all unless the symptoms become very severe or there are any breathing problems. Instead, there are plenty of things you can purchase over the counter to help alleviate the symptoms.
- Antitussives (a cough suppressive) medicines such as throat lozenges or dry cough syrup often contain camphor, eucalyptus or menthol.
- Expectorants are found in cough syrups for chest coughs and help to loosen secretions in the respiratory tract.
- Fever-reducing medications such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen help to reduce inflammation and pain allowing you to feel better sooner.
- Nasal decongestants and antihistamines are found in some cold medicines and help to reduce swelling in the nose and sinuses.
Always consult your pharmacist if you are unsure which is the best medicine for you.
Steam it out
A hot shower or relaxing bath can do wonders for sore muscles and will help to decongest you. Adding a little drop of your favourite essential oil will take the experience to a whole new level, with eucalyptus being especially good for colds. You can also breathe over a steaming bowl of hot water to help relive your symptoms.