“Atishoo atishoo we all fall down”. This winter has seen very many of us succumbing to the common cold and I was one of them, suffering sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, constant coughing and a wheezy chest. Colds are the most common infectious disease in humans, mainly caused by coronaviruses or rhinoviruses. There is no cure for the common cold but they usually clear up on their own within a week or two. Taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can reduce fever and using decongestant sprays and tablets can relieve a blocked nose. We can also help ourselves by resting, sucking on menthol sweets, gargling salt water, drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthily.
Colds spread easily and we are contagious a few days before our symptoms begin and until all symptoms have gone, meaning we are infectious for around two weeks. The cold virus is picked up by touching something or someone contaminated with infected droplets, and then touching our mouth, nose or eyes. Or from inhaling virus droplets sneezed or coughed out by an infected person. Colds are common amongst groups of people such as families, schools and day care centres and sadly we can catch one cold after another because there are several different cold viruses.
Washing hands helps avoid transmitting viruses and not touching our nose and eyes stops us getting infected because cold and flu viruses can enter our body through our eyes and noses.
Many people believe vitamin C, zinc, Echinacea and garlic supplements reduce the risk of getting a cold. However in 2013 an updated review of studies into vitamin C concluded “regular ingestion of vitamin C had no effect on the common cold, and research has found no evidence that it prevents colds” Dr Hasmukh Joshi, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs says a daily dose of vitamin C did slightly reduce the length and severity of colds. A review of trials on Echinacea found it was not shown to provide benefit in treating colds overall, but it was possible there was a weak benefit from some Echinacea products. However, there is some evidence that zinc (in lozenges, tablets or syrup) may reduce the duration of a cold. A 2013 Cochrane review suggests taking zinc supplements within 24 hours of symptoms starting speeds up recovery from a cold and lessens the severity of symptoms in healthy people. Getting chilly or wet doesn’t cause a cold.