It’s December and along with it comes “cold season.” The common cold, or upper respiratory tract infection, is one of the leading causes of doctor visits. It is characterized by symptoms such as sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, sore throat, cough, low-grade fever, and a mild headache.
Cold symptoms often rise in the fall and winter months as more people stay indoors and close to each other due to the cold weather. The cold virus lives in low humidity, making the nasal passages drier and more vulnerable to infection. It is the most frequent human illness with an estimated 25 million people seeking medical care annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, during a one-year period, the CDC estimates that people in the U.S. will suffer 1 billion colds. The cold virus inflames the membranes in the lining of the nose and throat. Colds can be the result of more than 200 different viruses. However, among all of the cold viruses, the rhinoviruses cause the majority of colds.
Other symptoms may include:
• Stuffy, runny nose
• Watering eyes
• Achy muscles and bones
• Mild fatigue
The best treatment for the cold is prevention. Doctors suggest washing your hands, eating healthy and limiting your contact with potential germs to help reduce the chances of developing a cold. Colds are typically spread airborne or by hand-to-hand contact. The CDC reports that infants and children are affected more often and experience more prolonged symptoms than adults.
Antibiotics are not effective in treating colds since the illness is caused by a virus. In children, there is a potential for harm and no benefit from over-the-counter cough and cold medications and thus should not be used. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends against giving over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children. These medications have potential negative side effects.
Parents might ask what can be done to make their child feel better. Vapor rub, nasal saline irrigation and plenty of rest are good options. Also, if there is something that you find that helps your child feel better then feel free to try it. Some suggest a bowl of chicken noodle soup or honey can ease symptoms.
In my practice at Linwood Health Center, I am often asked what the difference is between a cold and the flu (influenza). A cold is relatively harmless and usually clears up by itself after a period of time, although sometimes it may lead to a secondary infection, such as an ear infection. The flu may progress to a more complicated illness such as pneumonia. What may seem like a cold, could, in fact, be the flu. A cold typically has milder symptoms and normal energy levels. If in doubt, call a doctor to be sure.
As a reminder, it is not too late to get the flu vaccine. Contact your family physician, go to www.mchd.com or call the Flu Clinic Hotline at 317-221-2121 for more information.
Nydia Estrada-Nunez, M.D.
Linwood Health Center
Wishard Health Services