What causes the common cold?
A cold is a mild infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways. It can cause a blocked nose followed by a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and cough. In adults and older children it will usually last for about a week while your body fights off the infection. In younger children it can last up to two weeks. Colds are caused by viruses which attack the lining of the nose and throat, inflaming these areas. As they become inflamed they produce more mucus resulting in a runny nose and sneezing. There are more than 200 types of viruses that can cause a cold so it is possible to have several colds, one after the other caused by different viruses. On average adults have two to four colds a year whilst children have three to eight as their immune system is more vulnerable to infection. Colds are more frequent in winter probably because people tend to stay indoors more and be in close contact with each other.
How does a cold spread and how can I stop it? A cold spreads through:
Direct contact when you sneeze or cough. Tiny droplets of fluid containing the cold virus are launched into the air and can be breathed in by others. By indirect contact when you sneeze on to a door handle and someone else touches it a few minutes later and then they touch their nose or mouth.
You can help to stop the spread by washing your hands regularly and properly, particularly after touching your nose and mouth and before handling food – for instructions on the best way to wash your hands, ask a member of our staff.
Always sneeze and cough into tissues as this will help prevent virus containing droplets entering the air, throw away tissues immediately and wash your hands. Clean surfaces regularly to keep them free of germs.
Use your own cup, plates, cutlery and kitchen utensils and use disposable paper towels to dry your hands and face rather than shared towels.
Treating a common cold:
You should be able to treat cold symptoms yourself using over the counter medicines with some simple advice from our pharmacy team. These treatments include; Painkillers such as Ibuprofen and Paracetamol which are the only type of medication known to be effective in treating colds.
Decongestants which are designed to help relieve congestion but don’t use them for more than seven days because overuse can make the congestion worse. Zinc supplements, taken within a day of the symptoms starting, will speed up recovery and lessen the severity of the symptoms but long term use can cause side effects.
Drink plenty of fluids to replace what is lost through sweating.
Get plenty of rest.
Eat a healthy diet including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Use of steam inhalation, gargling with salt water, vapour rubs, menthol sweets and saline drops may all help.
You should avoid antihistamines and cough syrups, as there is no evidence they work for a cold, and antibiotics, because the cause is viral and not bacterial, they may cause side effects and increase antibiotic resistance leading to MRSA etc spreading.
When should I see my GP?
You only really need to see your GP if;
Your symptoms last longer than 3 weeks
You have a high temperature of 39C
You cough up blood stained phlegm
You are experiencing chest pains
You have breathing difficulties
Or experience severe swelling of your lymph nodes in your neck or armpits.
Top tips for parents
Encourage your child to rest and drink plenty of fluids
Raise the head of their bed by putting book under the legs if they are struggling to breathe because of a blocked nose
Give them Paracetamol OR Ibuprofen and follow the dosage instructions on the packet
A warm moist atmosphere can ease their breathing so use a vaporiser to humidify the air
Keep the room at a comfortable temperature and don’t let them get too hot.