- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Cold Symptoms and Treatment
The common cold is only common while it belongs to someone else. Once you are the victim, it is a week of wet-nosed, sore-throated misery.
The common cold (or coryza as it is technically known) may be caused by one or more of several hundred different viruses. It is a distinct entity from influenza, which is caused by a specific virus, even though that virus may mutate to many different forms.
When you catch a viral infection, the body develops antibodies to that virus. These protect the body from further attack by that virus. For example, you only catch measles or mumps once, and the antibodies produced give lifelong protection. Immunity can also be given by a vaccination, which also acts to raise the antibody level against a specific virus. Unfortunately, because so many different viruses, and versions of these viruses, may cause the common cold, the immunity you develop against one gives no immunity against another. Thus a vaccine is not possible.
Bacteria are microscopic animals that can be destroyed by antibiotics. A virus is a particle of protein one thousandth the size of a bacterium. The virus particles can remain in an inactive form for a short time (depending on the type) outside a cell, but before they can cause any infection, they must invade a cell. A virus may in fact infect not only human cells, but any animal, including a bacterium.
The cold virus spreads from one person to another in the tiny droplets of moisture in your breath, in a cough or in a sneeze. Once inhaled, they settle in the nose or throat of their new host, and start multiplying rapidly.
Scientists have found it almost impossible to destroy viruses because they are barely alive. It is usually necessary to kill the cell containing the virus in order to kill the virus itself. With a cold, billions of the cells in your nose, throat and chest are infected.
If you catch a cold, there is nothing a doctor can do to cure it. He or she can certainly prescribe medications to ease the symptoms and make you feel more comfortable, but please do not pester him or her for antibiotics, because they do not help the problem at all. The more you rest, the faster the problem will go away. Those who insist on working while feverish and miserable prevent the body from building up its defenses rapidly, and pass the infection on to their work mates. Aspirin or paracetamol, rest at home and medications for the cough, sore throat, runny nose and blocked sinuses are the best remedy. The usual cold will last for a week, but some people are luckier and have a brief course, while others are particularly unlucky, and the first cold may so lower their defenses that they can catch another one, and then another, causing cold symptoms to last for many weeks.
Unfortunately, even with the scientific and medical developments of the last century there is still no cure or prevention likely even in this century. Many vitamin and herbal remedies are touted as cures or preventatives for colds, but when subjected to detailed trials, none of them can be proved to be successful.
The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.
The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.
Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.