Everything You Need To Know About the Common Cold
It's the season when everybody is sneezing and coughing up a storm. Even though they may swear it's allergies or because the air is so dry, it's important to be armed with facts about the common cold. From trying to prevent it, to recognizing symptoms and knowing what to expect if you or a loved one is infected, these are essential bits of information that everyone should know about the common cold.
There are more than 200 different types of viruses that cause the common cold. In most cases, the cold is caused by rhinoviruses and brings the well-known symptoms of a runny, stuffy nose, sneezing, and an itchy throat with a cough. Other cold viruses include the coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, and parainfluenza. Scientists still can't pinpoint exactly how long humans have been suffering from this malady.
Different viruses are most potent during different seasons, and surprisingly, some viruses are more active during the warm seasons. This results in most adults getting sick once or twice during the course of a calendar year.
Children haven't built up the same immune systems as adults. Coupled with a lifestyle that brings them into more contact with infectious germs, they tend to get sick more often. While they get sick more often, they also tend to bounce back more quickly.
There are around 100 known strains of the human rhinovirus alone, which makes it impossible develop a single vaccine to prevent the cold. The viruses also mutate constantly, which means there are countless strains of the cold germs floating around the Earth.
Cold viruses can spread through moisture droplets in the air when an infected person talks, sneezes, or coughs. They can also spread through bodily contact. Once the germs are on your hands, they get into the body through the nose and eyes most commonly, and occasionally the mouth.
Without a host, the virus will eventually die, however, it can live up to two days outside of the body. Surfaces such as keyboards, door handles, phones, etc., are all prime places that harbor viruses.
The rhinovirus is efficient, producing millions of offspring every day. For this reason just one virus cell can wreak havoc on the system within a few hours, going from a barely noticeable scratchy throat to full-blown sick.
Based on how moisture droplets from a sneeze travel, medical professionals recommend standing six feet away from a person who is in the throes of a cold to avoid getting infected. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible when they are your family, in your classroom, or sharing a subway car.
Luckily, washing hands in warm, soapy water for 20 seconds is a very effective way of wiping off germs. While it won't protect anyone from airborne viruses, it will greatly help reduce the spread of the virus through contact with the eyes, nose and mouth, and on surfaces outside of the body.
A popular saying is that if you treat a cold, it lasts seven days, and if you don't, it lasts a week. While there are a few things you can do that may reduce symptoms a day or two earlier, a cold will pretty much clear up after seven days regardless of what you do.
In dry air, the droplets containing viruses lose moisture faster, which makes them smaller and lighter, allowing them to travel greater distances. All of this amounts to a faster spreading virus, which may explain why winter is such a contagious season for the common cold.
If you have a diet rich in vitamin C, it could help reduce symptoms if you become infected, but it won't actually prevent or cure a cold. Loading up on vitamin C once a cold sets in may help you feel better a day sooner, but there is no guarantee.
Exercise has been shown to boost immunities, generally keeping people healthier than those who do not exercise regularly. Having a strong immune system is one of the best ways to prevent sickness in the first place, so grab your sneakers and get going. That said, if you are sick, it's time to rest.
Honey is one of the few folk remedies that science actually backs up. Safe for everyone except for infants, honey acts as a soothing balm to counteract overly dry and irritated sinuses and throats. Warm tea with plenty of honey won't make your cold go away faster, but it should help most people feel better and rest without annoying symptoms.
Nature has a built-in system to let us know when someone is contagious: they are a gross mess of sneezing, leaking mucus, and they often look terrible. Our gut reaction is to stay away from someone who is sick when their symptoms are most severe, which is exactly when they are most contagious. Thanks, nature.
Once your body has a cold, it begins to build immunities to fight off that particular strain of the virus, which means it can never infect you again. This means that once you've passed the cold around your family, everyone is in the clear!