A closer look at the common Cold causes, symptoms, treatment and avoiding ‘mommy guilt’

by Leslie Bek

On a recent Sunday afternoon, my young son campaigned for our first outdoor ice skating adventure of the season. The previous day’s below-freezing temperatures and snow had given way to a balmy 36 degrees and a silt-like precipitation was falling—not the best for ice skating.

allergy-18656_640I was convinced, however, by the sight of his crossed fingers and pleading face. We geared up and headed for the Commons rink in downtown Marquette. Plan B was sledding.
Our outlook brightened when we saw a few skaters on the ice—perhaps this wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. I joined another mom in shoveling snow paths, in hopes of finding skating ice below. The kids didn’t appear to care whether there was snow or not as they all seemed to be trying out their skates in various definitions of a “first time.”
I soon changed from boots to skates as the silt-snow changed to a very heavy mist. We skated. I still could do a figure eight and his smile never dampened. After half an hour, I said it was time to go, as we were soaking wet. My son replied, “I didn’t even notice.”
The next morning, he woke up with a sore throat, cough and fever. Had it been the weather? Was it bad luck or coincidence? What if my own mother had been asked; would we have stayed home?
Research says it wasn’t the weather. That helps me with the momma guilt.
It is so prevalent, so pervasive that its first name is “Common.” Coughing, sneezing, scratchy throat, runny nose; everyone knows the first signs of a cold, probably the most common illness known.
Scientifically, our common cold is identified as acute viral nasopharyngitis, or acute coryza. This highly contagious, viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory system is caused primarily by more than 200 different viruses.
The viruses mutate frequently during reproduction, resulting in constantly changing virus strains. This makes them literally too hard to keep up with, and the development of an effective vaccine nearly impossible. Sounds to me like herding cats or trying to catch Jello on a table top.
The common cold has been around a while, and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
In the sixteenth century, the name “common cold” came into use, due to the similarity between its symptoms and those of exposure to cold weather.
However, the cause is not the weather itself, rather behaviors associated with colder temperatures and active viruses. According to the National Institutes of Health, while most colds occur during the fall, winter and early spring, there is no evidence that you can get a cold from exposure to cold weather or from getting chilled or overheated.
The common cold season correlates with the school year, lower humidity and colder temperatures. The common denominator is more people spending more time indoors, which increases the chances that viruses will spread from person to person. The environment for the virus itself also is more hospitable.
In the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin considered the causes and prevention of the common cold. His research concluded: “People often catch cold from one another when shut up together in small, close rooms, coaches, etc., and when sitting near and conversing so as to breathe in each other’s transpiration.”
Viruses had not even been discovered when Franklin hypothesized that the common cold was passed between people in the air. He further wrote that exercise, bathing and moderation in food and drink consumption were just some of his recommendations to avoid the common cold. Sounds to me like he was referring to boosting your internal immune system.
Statistics indicate that an average American adult suffers two to three colds a year; the average young child has as many as nine. That adds up to nearly one billion colds in our country each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 22 million school days are lost annually in the United States due to the common cold.
How do you put a new twist on a subject as old as the common cold? You don’t. But since it is still around, we may as well pay it some attention. Besides, it really can ruin your plans, and no one has time to be sick if we can prevent it.
Cold remedies are almost as common as the common cold, and many are nearly as ancient. The use of chicken soup as a congestion cure dates back centuries.
The primary method to prevent infection is hand-washing to minimize person-to-person spreading of the virus. There are no antiviral drugs approved to treat or cure the infection.
Most available medications treat symptoms only. Megadoses of Vitamin C, preparations from the plant echinacea and zinc gluconate have been studied as treatments for the common cold, although none are approved by the Federal Drug Administration.
Interestingly, antibacterial soaps have no effect on the cold virus; it is the action of hand-washing with soap that removes the virus particles. In 2002, the CDC recommended alcohol-based hand gels as an effective method for reducing infectious viruses on the hands of health-care workers. As with hand-washing with soap and water, alcohol gels provide no residual protection from reinfection.
For relief of symptoms caused by the common cold and to build your immune system, try:

• Getting plenty of rest
• Drinking fluids
• Gargling with warm salt water
• Using cough drops or throat sprays—age appropriate
• Taking over-the-counter pain or cold medicines—but not aspirin for children
• Taking vitamins, dietary supplements, herbal, homeopathic, natural remedies and neutraceuticals

While the odds appear to be against us, again we have Franklin to thank for words of wisdom: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
I’m sure there are researchers out there still looking for a cure. A waving white tissue of surrender is probably as far as anyone has gotten. In this case, it looks like prevention is still in the lead when dealing with this common health matter.
Starve a cold, feed a fever? I don’t know, try whatever works for you. Just remember to wash your hands.

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