Experiencing a cold is never pleasant, but having a better understanding of them can help you manage your symptoms more effectively. The common cold is an infection of the nose and throat (upper respiratory tract) that can be caused by any of over 200 different types of viruses. A cold can cause a variety of symptoms including body aches, congestion, coughing, fever, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and a sore throat.
How Do You Catch a Cold?
The cold virus spreads through contact with the infected secretions from someone who already has a cold. For example, this can happen when a person with a cold coughs or sneezes and you inhale droplets of fluid. You can also pick up the virus if you touch an object contaminated by a sick person and then introduce the virus into your body by touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth. The cold virus can live for several hours on objects such as doorknobs, phones, computer keyboards, coffee cups, books, and pens.
How Are Colds Treated?
While a cold can make you feel miserable, colds generally are gone within a week or two. There is no cure for a cold, but here are some helpful tips to reduce your symptoms:
- Over-the-counter medications are available to help relieve pain, reduce congestion, and help clear up a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes. Two effective medicines are Advil® Cold & Sinus and Advil® Cold & Sinus Plus.
- Get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Drinking water, juice, clear broth, or lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevent dehydration. However, avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol, because they can worsen hydration.
- Using a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier adds moisture to the air in your home, which may help loosen congestions.
One thing that won’t work is an antibiotic. Antibiotics only work against bacteria. Colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics have no effect against them.
Can Colds Be Prevented?
There is no vaccine that will prevent a cold, but there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of catching one.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly to eliminate any viruses you may have picked up from touching a contaminated surface.
- Disinfect your personal items and the surfaces in your home frequently, especially if someone near you has a cold.
- Don’t share items such as towels, drinking glasses, or eating utensils.
- Encourage people to cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing.
- Quitting smoking and managing stress may reduce your susceptibility to catching a cold.
Should You See a Doctor?
A cold can generally be treated with over-the-counter medicines to relieve the discomfort, but if you aren’t better after 10 days or if you develop severe symptoms, you should see a doctor. Symptoms to watch for include shaking chills, fever over 38.9°C (102°F), severe headache, neck stiffness, abdominal pain, vomiting, difficulty breathing, chest pain, or confusion. You should always consult a healthcare professional if an infant 3 months of age or younger develops a cold or fever.
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