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The Common Cold

Updated on October 10, 2016
The Common Cold
The Common Cold | Source

We all catch colds but why do some of us seem to suffer more than others? Is it worth stockpiling vitamin C and echinacea each winter to ward off the inevitable onslaught of a multitude of cold germs? And is there a way to keep ourselves and our environment bug free? This article addresses these points whilst sharing some enlightening common cold facts that you may have previously been unaware of.

Catching a Cold

  • The common cold is a mild infection of the upper respiratory tract caused by a virus which invades the cells in the nose and replicates. Symptoms often start with a sore throat and or sneezing which leads on to a runny nose and then a blocked, stuffy nose with possible fever and accompanying depending on the severity of the cold.

The Cold Virus
The Cold Virus | Source
  • By the time you are 70 you are likely to have suffered from 200 colds and spent 2 years coughing, spluttering and sneezing.
  • Children will suffer from about 8 colds a year but the elderly will tend to get just one. This is because we have built up our immune systems over the years by fighting off and creating antibodies to most strains of cold. In addition to this, the elderly aren't as social or mobile. The daily commute on public transport, for example, is a cauldron of bubbling germs looking for new hosts. An average adult tends to get about 2-5 colds a year.
  • You are most at risk of catching a cold if you are a teacher, solicitor, accountant, banker or doctor. Adults that are around children are more likely to catch colds as children represent the main reservoir of cold viruses since they are in much closer contact with each other than adults tend to be.
  • There are about 200 different strains of cold, the rinovirus is the most common.
  • It is easy to catch one strain and immediately catch another as the antibodies produced to combat a cold are very specific.

When do Symptoms Show?

  • A cold will start to show symptoms 48 hours after infection. Once a cold virus finds a new host it installs itself in the cells lining the nose and hatches a new generation of viruses in 8 hours.
  • Colds are at their most contagious before symptoms have begun to show.
  • 25% of people with colds may have a cold virus in their nose and throat and experience no symptoms. These people can transfer the virus to others however.
  • The symptoms of the common cold are a reaction of your immune system defending itself not from the cold virus, meaning that very bad symptoms do not indicate a weak immune system but a strong reaction.
  • Green mucus is not a sign of bacterial infection, in fact it just means that your immune system is functioning as it should, the greener the color, the stronger the immune response; the more white blood cells that are recruited to the nose, the darker the mucus will become.

Colds Are Not Very Contagious

  • Cold viruses enter your body through your nose or your eyes. Viruses don’t travel around on their own, when they enter your system it is likely that they are accompanied by thousands of other viruses congealed together in globule of mucus. Whichever virus manages to attach itself to the nasal lining will be the virus that takes hold or ‘wins’.
  • Colds do not spread easily through kissing. Saliva does not contain high levels of cold virus.

A Tissue for Atishoo
A Tissue for Atishoo | Source

Common Ways to Catch a Cold

  • Handling money
  • Touching anything on public transport
  • Door-handles and doorknobs
  • Keys
  • Shared desks/keyboards/mice/phones

Cold Germs

  • It has generally been thought that a virus can live on a non-human surface for two hours, however a study by researchers at the university of Buffalo found that Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus pyogenes can live on surfaces such as toys, books and cribs for weeks or even months.
  • In a study by Dr. Charles Gerba it was found that office toilet seats had 49 germs per square inch, but desktops had almost 21,000 germs per square inch with phones faring even worse housing more than 25,000 germs per square inch.
  • Alcohol based sanitizers are far more efficient at killing cold germs on hands than antibacterial soap and water. This is because cold viruses are exactly that, viruses and not bacteria.

Stress Will Result in a Worse Cold

  • People under stress produce higher quantities of the stress hormone cortisol. One of the functions of cortisol is to manage the production of cytokines, molecules that encourage an aggressive immune response. If your system is overloaded with cortisol the control of cytokine is derailed resulting in a nasty cold.

Why Are There More Colds in Winter?

  • Not because we are colder. The cold weather brings us all inside and closer together in environments with circulated air and lots of bodies, an ideal breeding ground to spread cold.
  • Fresh air indoors (open windows, no air conditioning) and playing outdoors reduce the spread of cold viruses.

Washing Your Clothes Spreads the Cold Virus

  • Research by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, has demonstrated that washing infected clothes could be a central germ transfer point in the home.
  • Simply by putting dirty washing into the machine you can pick up all sorts of nasty little bugs, for example E.coli is a common gut bacteria that could be harboring in your soiled underwear.
  • Washing clothes does kill 99% of bacteria, however there could be thousands remaining in that 1% that remains alive and well post wash, often lurking in folds of clothes.

Cold Germs Spread When You Wash Clothes
Cold Germs Spread When You Wash Clothes | Source

Blame Your Genes

  • Some of us have more receptor cells than others, therefore the lucky ones with less tend not to have as many colds because the rhinoviruses can’t attach as readily.
  • We also differ in the amounts of inflammatory chemicals our bodies produce as a response to colds.

What do you choose to treat your cold?

See results

Random Cold Facts

  • Those who partake in a couple of alcoholic drinks a day are far less likely to catch colds than those who do not. The reason for this is unknown.
  • Feed a cold, starve a fever. This saying is untrue.
  • Dairy products do not worsen colds.
  • Animals and humans do not share each others colds.
  • Sneezes travel at 90 miles per hour and can reach people within a 30 foot radius. If you need to sneeze then sneeze into your elbow.

Traditional Cold Remedies
Traditional Cold Remedies | Source

Cold Remedies

  • Honey and lemon does work to stop cough but there is little research to suggest exactly why this is. Both ingredients have significant ability to inhibit the growth of infection-causing microbes. Honey effectively acts as a cough suppressant and studies have shown it to have antiviral properties.
  • Honey and lemon plus a tot of brandy or whisky. The alcohol element can help you get to sleep more easily but won't do more than that.
  • Milk, honey and brandy. You can substitute the lemon for milk because it tastes a lot more palatable but it doesn't gain you anything in terms of lessening your cold symptoms.
  • Medicines pedaled to us as cold remedies use the same ideas as natural remedies but tend to contain paracetamol, decongestants and other drugs that mean you are limited to the number you can have in a day unlike the natural remedies.
  • Manuka honey (or magic honey as I like to call it) has all the benefits of regular honey and the added bonus of being antibacterial so warding off infection. The UMF has to be at least 10+ as anything less than this may be called Manuka but doesn't have the antibacterial property.
  • Echinacea won’t help. Studies have shown it to be of little or no benefit to prevent or reduce colds or their symptoms.
  • Soups do help with symptoms, it doesn't have to be chicken soup. A study by Stephen Rennard showed that consuming soup reduced the movement of neutrophils, these are cells that are drawn to the sites of infection which then trigger inflammation. There is no explanation as to why but it is thought that homemade or tinned soup does the same job.
  • Vitamin C does not generally stop you catching a cold although it may reduce the duration of the symptoms. The only group of people that studies have shown taking vitamin C to cut the risk of catching a cold is athletes, such as skiers and soldiers. A dose of 200 mg reduced the cold risk by half.
  • Recent studies have shown that zinc can lessen the severity and duration of a common cold. Taking zinc syrup, tablets or lozenges within a day of the onset of cold symptoms will aid speedy recovery. This is not a long term preventative however as potentially toxic.

Cold Remedy Review

Cold Remedy
Benefits
Vitamin C
May reduces symptoms, evidence of preventing colds in athletes.
Zinc
Reduces symptoms and duration of cold.
Echinacea
No benefits
Soup
Reduces symptoms of cold
Honey & Lemon
Reduces symptoms of cold
Manuka Honey
Reduces symptoms and antibacterial so helps prevent infection.

Can a Cold Kill You?

  • Yes. Babies and the elderly can develop chest infections such as bronchiolitis that can lead to death. Those taking immune system supressing drugs are also at risk.

Can You Distinguish Between a Cold and the Flu?

  • Not really. Influenza may have a more sudden onset and be accompanied by fever and muscle aches, but a severe common cold can cause these symptoms too.

On a more sinister note, take a look at how the flu virus takes hold of your body:

In Conclusion

  • Colds are inevitable for all and sundry although some of us fare worse than others thanks to our DNA.
  • Honey and lemon is an effective way to treat a cold but some of the traditional remedies are preventative measures are of little or no help.
  • There is no avoiding the fact that germs are quite literally everywhere and on everything but sharing a kiss with a cold ridden individual may not be a dead cert for catching a cold.

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    • Dougalbunny profile image
      Author

      Zoe 2 years ago from London, England

      Very helpful Doc! Certainly given me some food for thought there as I was unaware of the GI tract link and supplements for inflammation. Is that 15 servings of fruit/veg in a day?

    • DrKimCrawford profile image

      Kim CrawfordMD 2 years ago from Florida

      This is an excellent, medically factual article. Great job for debunking the usefulness (NOT!) of echinacea. One thing I tell all patients and members is that if they amp up their immune system enough they can pretty much prevent cold and flu. Here is what I suggest-eat an anti-inflammatory diet, take supplements for inflammation as needed such as curcumin and fish oils,make sure you either eat 15 servings of fruits/veggies or do a whole foods drink alternative. Lastly, most people have no idea how closely the GI tract is linked to immune and brain function. So at the very least,everyone needs to be on a good pre-probiotic. Hope this is helpful!

    • smdivin lm profile image

      smdivin lm 2 years ago

      Lots of great information here! Will definitely reference back for remedies the next time I catch a cold (because there will be a next time).

    • profile image

      Aditya Bala 2 years ago

      I was wondering, why i get common cold too much compare to others, this hub helped me to get deep knowledge about common cold. Thanks for sharing the information and videos.

    • yalul profile image

      Yalul 2 years ago from Philippines

      thank you for these bits of info. they are very informative and helpful.

    • lyoness913 profile image

      Summer LeBlanc 2 years ago from H-Town

      2 years coughing? Oh Lord! I think I am on my third right now, and I am only 44! What a great hub, very informative! Uprated and voted useful!