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It’s that time of year. The decorating, baking, shopping, wrapping, partying—and sneezing—has begun. As the cold weather brings us indoors and in close proximity of one another, the transmission of common cold viruses increases.

The term “common cold” refers to a mild upper respiratory infection involving the nose and throat. Symptoms include sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, watery eyes, low-grade fever, and minor fatigue. The culprit may be one of a couple of hundred different viruses.

Myths continue that we can catch a cold from cold, damp conditions, but there is no proof to this. The cold viruses are known to transmit through the air or by direct contact with someone who is infected. The closer you are to someone who is ill, and the longer you are with them, the more likely you will become sick.

Conditions such as asthma and congestive heart failure are aggravated by colds. And anyone with an immune deficiency is more susceptible than the average person; however, infants and preschoolers are at the greatest risk. They have not developed resistance to the germs and are in contact with other children who are not typically careful about hand-washing.

If you are near someone who is obviously ill, try to shield your face and wash your hands often. Cold germs can remain alive on human skin for as long as two hours. Disinfect items often handled such as faucets, TV remotes, computer keyboards, and phones, as well.We also need to be respectful of others when we are ill.

Viruses cannot be destroyed with antibiotics. Our only alternative is to ease the symptoms with over-the-counter or natural remedies. We are advised to drink plenty of fluids, get extra rest, keep our room warm, and use a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer.

The old home remedies continue to be the most effective. That chicken soup really does work. Gargle with salt water or take a spoon of honey to relieve a sore throat. Vitamin C and D and North American ginseng may reduce the longevity of the cold symptoms. Studies are inconclusive, but some believe Echinacea also helps. Zinc lozenges may be used for a couple of days but some studies found that zinc gels or sprays may be linked to irreversible damage to the sense of smell.

We recover from the majority of colds within a week to ten days, although secondary infections, such as strep throat, pneumonia, and croup, can occur. Call your doctor if you suspect whooping-cough, dehydration, an ear or sinus infection, or have colored phlegm, significantly swollen glands, or severe sinus pain. Adults should also call if their fever is over 103.

In regards to fevers in children, the Mayo Clinic advises to contact the doctor if your child:

  • Is a newborn up to 12 weeks with a fever of 100.4 F

  • Has a fever that rises repeatedly above 104 F, especially if there are signs of dehydration

  • Has a fever that lasts more than 24 hours and is younger than 2 years-old

  • Has a fever that lasts more than three days and is older than 2

(Information gathered from Duke University and Mayo Clinic websites)

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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