For all its findings, discoveries, and achievements, medical science still has yet to come up with a cure. Common cold occurs more often than any other disease hence, its name.
There are approximately 200 viruses that can cause a cold.
Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses (the name comes from “rhin,” the Greek word for nose) that are in invisible droplets in the air we breathe or on the things we touch.
Aside from rhinoviruses, there are more than 100 subtypes that cause up to half of all colds.
They can infiltrate the protective lining of the nose and throat, triggering an immune system reaction that can lead to sore throat, headache, and experience difficulty breathing through the nose.
A common cold results from exposure to the virus.
Infections are spread from one person to another, by hand-to-hand contact, or by a cough or sneeze that sprays many virus particles into the air.
Its intensity, however, depends upon the state of health of the person and environmental factors.
What is the common cold?
The common cold (also called viral rhinitis) is a viral infection, characterized by nasal congestion, a clear, runny nose, sneezing, scratchy throat and general malaise.
Low vitality, exposure to cold, lack of sleep, depression, fatigue, and factors such as sudden changes in temperature, dust, and other irritating inhalations are important contributory causes.
How to treat a cold
You can manage cold symptoms yourself by following some simple advice. You’ll normally start to feel better within 7 to 10 days.
Until you’re feeling better, it may help to:
- drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost from sweating and having a runny nose
- get plenty of rest
- eat healthily – a low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
You may lose your appetite when you have a cold. This is perfectly normal and should only last a few days. Don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not feeling hungry.
You may also wish to try some of the medications and remedies described below to help relieve your symptoms.
Over-the-counter cold medications
The main medications used to treat cold symptoms are:
- painkillers – such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, which can help relieve aches and a high temperature (fever)
- decongestants – which may help relieve a blocked nose
- cold medicines – containing a combination of painkillers and decongestants
These medications are available from pharmacies without a prescription.
They’re generally safe for older children and adults to take, but might not be suitable for babies, young children, pregnant women.
People with certain underlying health conditions, and people taking certain other medications.
Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine before taking it, and follow the recommended dosage instructions.
If you’re not sure which treatments are suitable for you or your child, speak to a pharmacist for advice.
More information about over-the-counter cold medicines is provided below.
Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help reduce a fever and also act as painkillers. Aspirin may also help, but it isn’t normally recommended for a cold and should never be given to children under the age of 16.
If your child has a cold, look for age-appropriate versions of paracetamol and ibuprofen (usually in liquid form). Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the correct dose is given.
Taking both ibuprofen and paracetamol at the same time is not usually necessary for a cold and should be avoided in children as using both together may be unsafe.
Read more about giving your child paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Paracetamol and ibuprofen are also included in some cold medicines. If you’re taking painkillers and want to also take a cold medicine, check the patient information leaflet first or ask your pharmacist or GP for advice to avoid exceeding the recommended dose.
If you’re pregnant, paracetamol is the preferred choice to treat mild to moderate pain and fever.
Read more about taking paracetamol during pregnancy and taking ibuprofen during pregnancy.
Decongestants can be taken by mouth (oral decongestants), or as drops or a spray into your nose (nasal decongestants). They can help make breathing easier by reducing the swelling inside your nose.
However, they’re generally only effective for a short period and they can make your blocked nose worse if they’re used for more than a week.
Decongestants are not recommended for children under six years old and children under 12 years old shouldn’t take them unless advised by a pharmacist or GP. They’re also not suitable for people with certain underlying conditions and those taking certain medications.
Read more about who can use decongestant medication.
The remedies outlined below may also help relieve your symptoms.
Gargling and menthol sweets
Some people find gargling with salt water and sucking on menthol sweets can help relieve a sore throat and blocked nose.
Vapour rubs can help babies and young children breathe more easily when they have a cold. Apply the rub to your child’s chest and back. Don’t apply it to their nostrils because this could cause irritation and breathing difficulties.
Nasal saline drops
Nasal saline (salt water) drops can help relieve a blocked nose in babies and young children.
Vitamin and mineral supplements
There is some evidence to suggest that taking zinc supplements within a day of the symptoms starting will speed up recovery from a cold and reduce the severity of symptoms.
However, there is currently little evidence to suggest that taking vitamin C supplements is beneficial when a cold starts.
Treatments not recommended
The following treatments aren’t usually recommended to treat colds because there isn’t strong evidence to suggest they’re effective, and they may cause unpleasant side effects:
- cough treatments or syrups
- antibiotics – these are only effective against bacteria (colds are caused by viruses)
- complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments such as echinacea and Chinese herbal medicines
12 Natural Treatment Tips for Colds and Flu
1 Know When not to Treat Symptoms
Believe it or not, those annoying symptoms you’re experiencing are part of the natural healing process — evidence that the immune system is battling illness.
For instance, a fever is your body’s way of trying to kill viruses by creating a hotter-than-normal environment. Also, a fever’s hot environment makes germ-killing proteins in your blood circulate more quickly and effectively.
Thus, if you endure a moderate fever for a day or two, you may actually get well faster. Coughing is another productive symptom; it clears your breathing passages of thick mucus that can carry germs to your lungs and the rest of your body.
Even that stuffy nose is best treated mildly or not at all. A decongestant, like Sudafed, restricts flow to the blood vessels in your nose and throat.
But often you want the increase blood flow because it warms the infected area and helps secretions carry germs out of your body.
2 Blow Your Nose Often (and the Right Way)
It’s important to blow your nose regularly when you have a cold rather than sniffling mucus back into your head.
But when you blow hard, pressure can carry germ-carrying phlegm back into your ear passages, causing earache.
The best way to blow your nose: Press a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other.
3 Treat That Stuffy Nose With Warm Salt Water
Salt-water rinsing helps break nasal congestion, while also removing virus particles and bacteria from your nose. Here’s a popular recipe:
Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in 8 ounces of warm water. Use a bulb syringe or nasal irrigation kit to squirt water into the nose.
Hold one nostril closed by applying light finger pressure while squirting the salt mixture into the other nostril. Let it drain. Repeat two to three times, then treat the other nostril.
#4 Stay Warm and Rested
Staying warm and resting when you first come down with a cold or the flu helps your body direct its energy toward the immune battle.
This battle taxes the body. So give it a little help by resting.
Gargling can moisten a sore throat and bring temporary relief. Gargle with half a teaspoon of salt dissolved in 8 ounces warm water, four times daily.
To reduce the tickle in your throat, try an astringent gargle — such as tea that contains tannin — to tighten the membranes.
Or use a thick, viscous gargle made with honey or honey and apple cider vinegar. Seep one tablespoon of raspberry leaves or lemon juice in two cups of hot water; mix with one teaspoon of honey.
Let the mixture cool to room temperature before gargling.
#6 Drink Hot Liquids
Hot liquids relieve nasal congestion, prevent dehydration, and soothe the uncomfortably inflamed membranes that line your nose and throat.
If you’re so congested that you can’t sleep at night, try a hot toddy, an age-old remedy.
Make a cup of hot herbal tea.
Add one teaspoon of honey and one small shot (about 1 ounce) of whiskey or bourbon. Limit yourself to one. Too much alcohol will inflame the membranes and make you feel worse.
7 Take a Steamy Shower
Steamy showers moisturize your nasal passages and may help you relax.
If you’re dizzy from the flu, run a steamy shower while you sit on a chair nearby and take a sponge bath.
8 Use a Salve Under Your Nose
A small dab of mentholated salve under your nose can help to open breathing passages and restore the irritated skin at the base of the nose.
Menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor all have mild numbing ingredients that may help relieve the pain of a nose rubbed raw.
However, only put it on the outside, under your nose, not inside your nose.
#9 Apply Hot or Cold Packs Around Your Congested Sinuses
Either temperature works.
You can buy reusable hot or cold packs at a drugstore or make your own.
You can apply heat by taking a damp washcloth and heating it for 55 seconds in a microwave (test the temperature first to make sure it’s not too hot.)
A small bag of frozen peas works well as a cold pack.
10 Sleep With an Extra Pillow Under Your Head
Elevating your head will help relieve congested nasal passages.
If the angle is too awkward, try placing the pillows between the mattress and the box springs to create a more gradual slope.
11 Don’t Fly Unless Necessary
There’s no point adding stress to your already stressed-out upper respiratory system, and that’s what the change in air pressure will do.
Flying with cold or flu congestion can temporarily damage your eardrums as a result of pressure changes during takeoff and landing.
If you must fly, use a decongestant and carry a nasal spray with you to use just before takeoff and landing.
Chewing gum and swallowing frequently can also help relieve pressure.
12 Eat Infection-Fighting Foods
Here are some good foods to eat when you’re battling a cold or flu:
- Bananas and rice to soothe an upset stomach and curb diarrhea
- Vitamin C-containing foods like bell peppers
- Blueberries curb diarrhea and are high in natural aspirin, which may lower fevers and help with aches and pains
- Carrots, which contain beta-carotene
- Chili peppers may open sinuses, and help break up mucus in the lungs
- Cranberries may help prevent bacteria from sticking to cells lining the bladder and urinary tract
- Mustard or horseradish may helps break up mucus in air passages
- Onions contain phytochemicals purported to help the body clear bronchitis and other infections
- Black and green tea contain catechin, a phytochemical purported to have natural antibiotic and anti-diarrhea effects
Remember, serious conditions, such as sinus infections, bronchitis, meningitis, strep throat, and asthma, can look like the common cold.
If you have severe symptoms, or don’t seem to be getting better, call your doctor.