The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. Over 200 different virus strains (rhinoviruses being the most common) can trigger the common cold, with symptoms lasting from seven to ten days and some up to three weeks. Typical symptoms include coughing, sneezing, fever, a runny nose, and a sore throat. Presently, we have no cure for the common cold, as in many cases the symptoms are caused by the body’s own immune system responding to the virus. The symptoms themselves can be treated with varying degrees of success.
Most over-the-counter remedies (cough medicine, acetaminophen, ibuprofen) address specific symptoms of the common cold. It is important not to seek antibiotic prescriptions when treating a cold, however, as the common cold is caused by a virus, rather than a bacterial infection. Excessive antibiotic abuse is one of the driving forces behind hospital-resistant bacteria. When people routinely seek antibiotics for viral infections or non-serious illnesses, the antibiotics will be considerably less effective when they are actually needed. Compounding individual antibiotic abuse we have modern hospitals, which are frequently treated with a variety of harsh chemicals designed to purge the local environment of bacteria. The problem here is that only the toughest bacteria survive, in some cases leading to hospital-resistant bacteria that are beyond even last-resort drugs.
If antibiotics are out of the question and over-the-counter remedies only address symptoms that have already manifested, one might wonder what they can due to reduce their chances of contracting the common cold in the first place. There is no magic bullet, but living a preventive lifestyle with plenty of rest, hydration, and a healthy diet will help to keep the immune system in top form to defend against infection. Living a preventive lifestyle with regular cardiovascular exercise, healthy dieting, and proper weight management has many other long-term health benefits, including a healthier heart and lower incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. All of these factors reinforce each other in promoting immune system health. Likewise, unhealthy lifestyle factors (poor dieting, obesity, large amounts of sedentary activity, chronic stress, lack of sleep and smoking) also reinforce each other, particularly with regard to the common cold.
Frequent hand-washing can also help to reduce transmission and infection rates for the common cold. Use gentle soaps to prevent your hands from drying out, which can cause the hands to crack and bleed (again, increasing the risk of infection). Avoid rubbing the eyes, as the body’s mucous membranes are at a much higher risk for infection.