In these divided times, it’s nice to have something that we can all relate to – step forward, the common cold. The sneezing, headaches and perpetually runny nose are symptoms all too familiar to the majority of us at some point during the year. In fact, there’s a good chance that some of you reading this now are snivelling away, vainly trying to keep your phone or tablet out of your sneezing splash zone.
For an ailment that is so widely experienced, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about the common cold. Its causes, prevention and treatment have been matters of both scientific debate and home-grown remedy since at least the 1800s, according to some studies. False notions and misapprehensions surround the common cold in the same way that soggy tissues and broken dreams surround its sufferers.
But what exactly is the truth behind getting a cold? In this post, we’ll confront the confusion and explore the science to put the matter to bed for good.
Put simply, the common cold is caused by a virus. In fact, there are over 200 types of virus that can cause the symptoms of a common cold. The peskiest of these pesky microbes is the rhinovirus, which is responsible for at least half of all colds. The classicists amongst you will know that “rhino” is the Latin by-way-of-Ancient Greek word for “nose”, and it is in the lining of your nose and throat that the cold virus prefers to dwell.
A particularly fertile germ, the cold virus can multiply to produce more than 16 million offspring within 24 hours of first contact. Once infected, your body’s immune system will kick start a full scale attack, sending a battalion of white blood cells to confront the invading microbes. Your immune response will also involve inflammation of your nose and throat, as well as the infamous mass production of mucus. This all takes a lot of energy so you will undoubtedly end up feeling tired and weak.
Now you know what a cold is, let’s address the old and bold claims that surround it…
We’d forgive you for thinking that you can catch a cold from being cold – it’s called a COLD after all! Whilst it is true that colds are more common in the winter and cold temperatures will cause your nose to run, they will not cause you to catch a cold. This also applies to subdivisions of the coldness myth, namely wearing wet clothes and having wet hair – it’s not laziness, it’s science! As a newly qualified microbiologist, you are now more than aware that colds are caused by viruses.
Any situation where you’re in an enclosed space with crowds of people is going to increase your risk of catching a cold. The common cold is very contagious and is easily transferred through physical contact. Touching someone who is infected or any contaminated surface, such as door handles, newspapers or handrails, then touching your nose or mouth will likely lead to infection. You can also catch a cold when the virus becomes airborne, mainly the result of someone sneezing or coughing nearby.
One of the most prevalent cold myths, this old wives’ remedy does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. Cold symptoms will often leave you feeling run down and you’re appetite is likely to wane. Force-feeding yourself will not do much to relieve this. A more effective approach is to make sure you are staying hydrated. Eating chicken soup and drinking lots of warm fluids will soothe the nasal passages whilst also increasing the temperature in your nose and throat, which viruses hate. Adding lemon and honey to your warm tea will give you an extra vitamin and antioxidant boost.
If you’re stressed you are more likely to be tired, eat poorly and have a weakened immune system. This leaves you prone to infection, not only from the common cold but all types of infection. Once infected, chronic stress will also increase your chances of developing complications, such as more serious illnesses like sinus infections or even pneumonia. You should seek medical assistance if you’re cold symptoms continue for more than 10 days.
Whilst viruses cause the common cold, it’s their bacterial buddies who are solely affected by antibiotics. Therefore using antibiotics to treat a cold is futile. The over-prescription of antibiotics has lead to a worrying increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In fact, taking antibiotics when you have a cold is likely to add to your problems as they may kill your body’s ‘friendly’ bacteria, making it easier for the virus to thrive. Doctors will only prescribe antibiotics if a cold progresses to a secondary infection such as bronchitis.
Cold symptoms often resolve themselves within 7 to 10 days but if they persist you should make sure to see a doctor. Qured will come straight to your door at the click of a button, so if you are dreading the thought of getting out of your cosy bed to travel to the doctors, download our app and find out more.