By printing and/or reading this article, you agree that you accept all terms and conditions of use, as specified online.
The common cold is one of those health problems we all have to deal with. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the average person gets two to three colds per year; young children get colds even more often.
Basically, a cold is an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. (Read about "Respiratory System") Colds are caused by viruses, which are spread from person to person. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), there are over a hundred different viruses that can cause colds. Colds are not caused by cold weather (although they may happen more often in winter because people tend to spend more time indoors with others, which increases the chances of a cold virus being spread).
Colds are also not caused by bacteria. (Read about "Microorganisms") This is why antibiotics won't help a simple cold, unless there are other problems or complications present. (Read about "Antibiotics")
Medications you can buy over-the-counter won't cure a cold; however, they can relieve some of the symptoms so you can feel better. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it's important to always check with your doctor or pediatrician before using medicine, but typically, ingredients in cold medications include any or all of the following:
It's important to consider the patient's age in selecting medication. When it comes to children, this is very important. An over-the-counter cough and cold medicine can be harmful if more than the recommended amount is used, if it is given too often, or if more than one cough and cold medicine containing the same active ingredient are being used. To avoid giving a child too much medicine, FDA says parents must carefully follow the directions for use of the product in the "Drug Facts" box on the package label. FDA also says parents should not use cough and cold products in children under 2 years of age, unless given specific directions to do so by their doctor.
For adults, the best medicine to choose also depends on the type and severity of your specific cold symptoms. You don't want to take medicine that's not appropriate for your particular symptoms, so check with a doctor or pharmacist first. Keep in mind too that some of the ingredients in cold medications can cause side effects or interact with other medicine. Again, ask your doctor if you have any concerns. (Read about "Medicine Safety")
You should also be aware of symptoms that indicate you may have more than a cold. If congestion is accompanied by facial pain, cough and thick discharge, it could indicate sinusitis. (Read about "Sinusitis and Rhinitis") The presence of fever and muscle aches could indicate the flu. (Read about "Influenza") Persistent sneezing, plus watery eyes and itching, could indicate an allergy. (Read about "Allergies")
Be aware too that complications can develop from colds. A common complication, especially in children, is a middle ear infection called otitis media. (Read about "Otitis Media") Secondary infections can develop, leading to pneumonia, croup or strep throat. (Read about "Pneumonia" "Croup" "Sore Throat and Strep Throat") Colds can also worsen the symptoms of asthma. (Read about "Asthma")
The viruses that cause colds are usually spread through the air. If you do have a cold, use clean handkerchiefs and tissues to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze to prevent further spread of the viruses, and discard used tissues right away. If you want to avoid colds, wash your hands frequently; encourage children to wash their hands often too; and keep surroundings disinfected. (Read about "Fighting Workplace Germs")
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, regular exercise, combined with eating right and controlling stress (Read about "Stress"), may help strengthen your immune system (Read about "The Immune System") so you're better able to resist infections. Following these steps may not guarantee you'll never get a cold, but you can improve your odds.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
© Concept Communications Media Group LLC