Colds


    Sneezing, scratchy throat, runny nose-everyone knows the first signs of a cold,
    probably the most common illness known. Although the common cold is usually
    mild, with symptoms lasting 1 to 2 weeks, it is a leading cause of doctor visits
    and missed days from school and work. According to the Centers for Disease
    Control and Prevention, 22 million school days are lost annually in the United
    States due to the common cold.

    In the course of a year, people in the United States suffer 1 billion colds,
    according to some estimates.

    Children have about 6 to 10 colds a year. One important reason why colds are
    so common in children is because they are often in close contact with each other
    in daycare centers and schools. In families with children in school, the number
    of colds per child can be as high as 12 a year. Adults average about 2 to 4
    colds a year, although the range varies widely. Women, especially those aged 20
    to 30 years, have more colds than men, possibly because of their closer contact
    with children. On average, people older than 60 have fewer than one cold a year.

    CAUSES

    The
    Viruses

    More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the symptoms of the common
    cold. Some, such as the rhinoviruses, seldom produce serious illnesses. Others,
    such as parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus, produce mild infections
    in adults but can precipitate severe lower respiratory infections in young
    children.

    Rhinoviruses (from the Greek rhin, meaning “nose”) cause an estimated
    30 to 35 percent of all adult colds, and are most active in early fall, spring,
    and summer. More than 110 distinct rhinovirus types have been identified. These
    agents grow best at temperatures of about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature
    inside the human nose.

    Scientists think coronaviruses cause a large percentage of all adult colds.
    They bring on colds primarily in the winter and early spring. Of the more than
    30 kinds, three or four infect humans. The importance of coronaviruses as a
    cause of colds is hard to assess because, unlike rhinoviruses, they are
    difficult to grow in the laboratory.

    Approximately 10 to 15 percent of adult colds are caused by viruses also
    responsible for other, more severe illnesses: adenoviruses, coxsackieviruses,
    echoviruses, orthomyxoviruses (including influenza A and B viruses, which cause
    flu), paramyxoviruses (including several parainfluenza viruses), respiratory
    syncytial virus, and enteroviruses.

    The causes of 30 to 50 percent of adult colds, presumed to be viral, remain
    unidentified. The same viruses that produce colds in adults appear to cause
    colds in children. The relative importance of various viruses in pediatric
    colds, however, is unclear because it’s difficult to isolate the precise cause
    of symptoms in studies of children with colds.

    The weather

    There is no evidence that you can get a cold from exposure to cold weather or
    from getting chilled or overheated.

    Other factors

    There is also no evidence that your chances of getting a cold are related to
    factors such as exercise, diet, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. On the other
    hand, research suggests that psychological stress and allergic diseases
    affecting your nose or throat may have an impact on your chances of getting
    infected by cold viruses.

    THE COLD SEASON

    In the United States, most
    colds occur during the fall and winter. Beginning in late August or early
    September, the rate of colds increases slowly for a few weeks and remains high
    until March or April, when it declines. The seasonal variation may relate to the
    opening of schools and to cold weather, which prompt people to spend more time
    indoors and increase the chances that viruses will spread to you from someone
    else.

    Seasonal changes in relative humidity also may affect the prevalence of
    colds. The most common cold-causing viruses survive better when humidity is
    low-the colder months of the year. Cold weather also may make the inside lining
    of your nose drier and more vulnerable to viral infection.

    SYMPTOMS

    Symptoms of the common cold usually
    begin 2 to 3 days after infection and often include

    • Mucus buildup in your nose
    • Difficulty breathing through your nose
    • Swelling of your sinuses
    • Sneezing
    • Sore throat
    • Cough
    • Headache

    Fever is usually slight but can climb to 102 degrees Fahrenheit in infants
    and young children. Cold symptoms can last from 2 to 14 days, but like most
    people, you’ll probably recover in a week. If symptoms occur often or last much
    longer than 2 weeks, you might have an allergy rather than a cold.

    Colds occasionally can lead to bacterial infections of your middle ear or
    sinuses, requiring treatment with antibiotics. High fever, significantly swollen
    glands, severe sinus pain, and a cough that produces mucus, may indicate a
    complication or more serious illness requiring a visit to your healthcare
    provider.

    TRANSMISSION

    You can get infected by cold
    viruses by either of these methods.

    • Touching your skin or environmental surfaces, such as telephones and stair
      rails, that have cold germs on them and then touching your eyes or nose
    • Inhaling drops of mucus full of cold germs from the air

    TREATMENT

    There is no cure for the common cold, but you can get relief
    from your cold symptoms by

    • Resting in bed
    • Drinking plenty of fluids
    • Gargling with warm salt water or using throat sprays or lozenges for a
      scratchy or sore throat
    • Using petroleum jelly for a raw nose
    • Taking aspirin or acetaminophen, Tylenol, for example, for headache or fever

    A word of caution: Several studies have linked aspirin use to the
    development of Reye’s syndrome in children recovering from flu or chickenpox.
    Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious illness that usually occurs in children
    between the ages of 3 and 12 years. It can affect all organs of the body but
    most often the brain and liver. While most children who survive an episode of
    Reye’s syndrome do not suffer any lasting consequences, the illness can lead to
    permanent brain damage or death. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends
    children and teenagers not be given aspirin or medicine containing aspirin when
    they have any viral illness such as the common cold.

    Over-the-counter cold medicines

    Nonprescription cold remedies, including decongestants and cough
    suppressants, may relieve some of your cold symptoms but will not prevent or
    even shorten the length of your cold. Moreover, because most of these medicines
    have some side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, insomnia, or upset
    stomach, you should take them with care.

    Over-the counter-antihistamines

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