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Cold (Adults)

 

Condition
Colds (Adults)
Class
Respiratory system
Description
A cold or common cold is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory tract. It can affect the nose, sinuses, throat, voice and airways. Colds are very common and most frequently occur during the winter months. On average, adults suffer from a cold about two or three times per year.
Causes
There are hundreds of different viruses that cause the common cold. The most common viruses belong to groups of viruses known as rhinoviruses or coronaviruses. As there are so many viruses and because the viruses constantly change, the body's immune system is unable to recognise each new virus, which is why people catch colds year after year.

The viruses that cause the common cold are spread from one person to another in the minute water droplets carried in the air when someone coughs or sneezes. The virus can also be spread by touch or by handling objects that have recently been touched by someone already infected with the cold virus. People are most infectious when they show the first signs of a cold developing.

Whichever way the virus is transmitted, it enters the nose and attacks the lining of the nasal passages, causing them to become inflamed and producing the symptoms of a cold.
Symptoms
A blocked and runny nose is the most common symptom of a cold, accompanied by a feeling of being generally tired and unwell. The person affected may have a raised temperature, yet feel chilled, and may also have a sore throat and cough. Headache, caused by tension resulting from congestion in the nasal passages or because of the raised temperature, is another common symptom.

The symptoms of a cold usually begin 2 to 3 days after becoming infected and last for 2 to14 days. Most people recover from a cold within a week.
Treatment
There is no cure for the common cold and there is no vaccine to prevent colds.

Antibiotics do not work against the viruses that cause colds.

Although there is no cure for the common cold, treating the symptoms can bring relief while the body's immune system fights the virus. Painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen, can ease the aches and pains, and reduce fever. Aspirin and aspirin-based products should not be given to children under 16 years of age.

Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, oxymetazoline and xylometazoline can help clear a blocked nose and sinuses but should not be used long-term as they can make the condition worse. They should not be used in children under 6 years of age. Steam inhalation or inhalations containing menthol and essential oils will also help ease nasal congestion. Throat lozenges and gargles help soothe a sore throat. Cough remedies containing an expectorant such as guaifenesin may help remove mucus from the airways, or those containing an antitussive such as dextromethorphan may help relieve a dry tickling cough.

When to see your pharmacist
It is important that you check with your pharmacist before buying any over the counter remedies to treat the symptoms of a common cold. Let the pharmacist know if you have any heart problems, high blood pressure, glaucoma, asthma or stomach ulcers. Some ingredients such as phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine may increase blood pressure and so are best avoided by people who have hypertension or who are taking antihypertensive medicines. Other preparations may cause an increase in the pressure in the eye or may oppose medicines used to treat glaucoma. Aspirin should be avoided by people with asthma and it should not be used in children under 16 years of age. Preparations containing codeine and dihydrocodeine should not be used to treat colds as they are not considered appropriate and may cause addiction if taken for more than 3 days.

Similarly, some ingredients of cold remedies may interact with other medicines and so should not be taken together. For example, patients on monoamine oxidase inhibitors for the treatment of depression must avoid taking preparations containing ephedrine and phenylephrine while they are taking the monoamine oxidase inhibitors and for at least 2 weeks after stopping treatment.

Remember to check with your pharmacist what drugs are in your cough and cold preparations. Many of the traditional cold remedies have similar sounding names and their ingredients may differ or change. It is very easy to take too much painkiller or decongestant if more than one remedy is taken.

Your pharmacist will also be able to offer advice on staying healthy and can provide a number of supplements containing vitamin C and zinc that may boost your immune system and help protect against your catching a cold.

Many of the traditional cough and cold medicines are no longer supplied from supermarkets or other non-pharmacy outlets and are available only from local pharmacies following a review of the safety of the use of these medicines in children.

Cough and cold remedies containing antihistamines, antitussives, expectorants or decongestants are not suitable for children under 6 years of age. Children under 6 years of age suffering from a cough or a cold may be given paediatric formulations of medicines containing paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a raised temperature, or if they have a cough may be given soothing cough medicines containing glycerol, honey or lemon.

Cold remedies containing antihistamines, antitussives, expectorants or decongestants can be used in children age 6 to 12 years, but they should only be used after soothing preparations have been tried and they should not be used for more than 5 days. Never give your child more than the recommended dose or other cough and cold medicines containing similar ingredients at the same time.

If your baby has difficulty in feeding because of a blocked nose, your pharmacist will be able to provide nose drops containing saline that will help. Vapour rubs and inhalant decongestants may be applied to the baby's clothing to help clear a blocked nose.

Always tell your pharmacist your child's age and describe your child's symptoms so the pharmacist will be able to recommend the most suitable product.
When to see your doctor
Cold symptoms usually disappear within a week and it is not normally necessary to see your doctor unless there are other complications. The production of green or yellow mucus suggests a bacterial infection has developed as a result of the initial cold, and if this affects the sinuses, chest or ears see your doctor as a course of antibiotics may be necessary. You should also see your doctor if your cold symptoms do not ease within a week or if you suspect complications.

In babies and children, signs of more serious infection include wheezing, persistent earache, fast or difficult breathing, persistent high temperature, drowsiness and chest pain. See your doctor if your child has any of these symptoms.

If your baby or child is refusing to drink or is showing signs of suspected meningitis you should seek medical advice immediately.
Living with a cold
When cold symptoms are at their worst it is import to rest to help your body's immune system fight the virus. Avoid strenuous exercise and try to get as much rest and sleep as possible. If you can, stay in a room that has a constant temperature and keep warm. If you have to go out, wrap up warmly. Drink plenty of fluids to replace body fluids lost by sweating. Do not smoke or drink alcohol.

Use tissues, rather than handkerchiefs, for blowing your nose and for trapping coughs and sneezes to reduce the risk of spreading the cold virus to others. Dispose of the tissues in a waste paper bin. Wash your hands frequently throughout the day to reduce the spread of the virus by contact with surfaces.

If necessary, treat symptoms with the medicines described above. If you develop signs of a bacterial infection, see your doctor.

Reviewed on 22 June 2010


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