is the common cold?
The common cold
is the name given to a contagious viral disease which infects the soft lining
of the nose and throat. This infection leads, in turn, to the most characteristic
symptoms of a cold, the runny nose and sore throat.
is the difference between a cold and the flu?
Sometimes it can
be quite difficult to tell the difference between the common cold and the flu
because many of the symptoms are similar. However, there are differences, as
- A cold can be
'caught' four or more times a year, whereas a bout of flu will usually only
be contracted once a year, most probably during the winter months.
- One of the earliest
symptoms of a cold is a runny nose. This secretion looks like water, but gradually
becomes thicker and more yellow as the cold worsens. As the soft lining (mucous
membrane) of the nose swells up, it may become extremely difficult to breathe
through the nose.
- In cases of
influenza, a runny, watery secretion from the nose may also be present but
this seldom deteriorates to such an extent that it may affect breathing through
- Patients suffering
from both the common cold and a bout of influenza will generally feel unwell
and below par but persistent, and sometimes severe, headaches may be present
with influenza. Slight headaches are normally present with the common cold.
- Influenza is
characterised by severe fatigue and weakness, whereas a patient suffering
from the common cold may be able to go about their daily chores, albeit with
a runny nose and a nagging cough.
- Among the first
symptoms of the common cold are sneezing and a sore throat, with difficulty
in swallowing. On the other hand, patients with influenza may first begin
to complain about headaches, severe fatigue and weakness and a high temperature
the common cold contagious?
Yes. A person is
deemed to be contagious from the day before the cold breaks out until two to
three days after they recover. The infection is spread through the air by means
of droplets from the infected person when they sneeze or cough.
'catching a cold' be avoided?
Most people believe
that it is virtually impossible to avoid 'catching' a cold, particularly during
the winter months. However, there are a couple of steps which can be taken to
minimise the risk of coming into contact with the virus which causes the common
cold. These include:
- Avoid coming
into contact with people who have colds, if possible.
- Do not touch
your eyes or nose after being in physical contact (ie. shaking hands) with
someone who has a cold. This is one of the most common ways of spreading the
- Avoid crowded,
stuffy atmospheres where the risk of contracting the cold virus is much greater.
- Wash hands thoroughly
and frequently, especially after blowing your nose.
- Keep rooms well
ventilated at all times.
it necessary to visit the doctor?
No, except in very
rare cases. The symptoms of the common cold will usually disappear within a
week or two and, provided there are no other symptoms or complications, there
should be no reason to visit your local GP. Since the common cold is caused
by a virus, it does not respond to antibiotic treatment.
should I do if I have a cold?
where bed rest is strongly advised, there should be no reason to curtail daily
activities if suffering from the common cold. However, do recognise your limits
and expect to become tired and worn out more easily. Other guidelines to follow
- Stop smoking,
because it irritates the mucous membrane (soft lining) of the nose even more
and may also exacerbate other respiratory problems.
- Drink plenty
of warm liquids, as these are known to reduce the symptoms of the common cold.
taken regularly in the recommended doses, will help to reduce your temperature
and relieve pains and aches.
- Nasal decongestants,
which are available over the counter in your local pharmacy, will help to
relieve the blocked up, stuffy feeling in the nose which is caused by swelling
of the mucous membranes inside the nose.
- Avoid stuffy
or smoky atmospheres, as they will make you feel worse.
- To aid breathing,
try to sleep with your head on a high pillow.
- Use paper tissues,
and make sure to dispose of them properly after blowing your nose as this
helps to reduce the spread of infection.
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