All about colds

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Crutchfield)
Photo courtesy of Dr. Crutchfield

How to lessen their frequency and ease their symptoms

It’s that season again — cold season! Let’s talk about what a cold is, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.

A cold is a viral infection of your sinuses/nasal passages and throat. Sometimes it can spread into your deep throat and cause bronchitis.

There are over 99 different viruses that can cause a cold. Because colds often affect the nasal passages, most of the viruses that cause colds are “rhinoviruses”; the term “rhino” means “nose.”

There is no cure for colds, so one must let a cold “run its course.” Most colds last about four to seven days.

The difference between a cold and the flu is that colds are not as severe, don’t produce high fevers, and don’t cause significant tiredness or fatigue. There are measures one can take to prevent the number of colds one gets and to treat the symptoms if a cold develops.

Common cold symptoms

  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • May have mild fever
  • May have mild fatigue-tiredness
  • Nasal pressure
  • Watery eyes

Prevention

The best way to treat a cold is to prevent it in the first place. Some things that help to prevent colds include:

  • Hand washing. This is the most important thing you can do to prevent colds. Wash hands for at least 30 seconds. Some people sing “Happy Birthday” silently, twice, as a timing device as they wash their hands.
  • Get a flu shot or mist every year.
  • Don’t touch the faucet handles or doorknobs in public restrooms. Use a towel to turn the water off and your elbow to open the door.
  • If a sink is not available, use hand sanitizing gels.
  • Don’t cough into your hand; cough into your elbow.
  • Don’t touch your food with your hands; use eating utensils.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat healthy, including a daily multivitamin.
  • Clean commonly encountered surfaces regularly with disinfectant sprays. This includes bathroom surfaces, cell phones, doorknobs, refrigerator handles, steering wheels, and other commonly touched door handles.

Treatment

There is no cure for the common cold, so reducing aggravating symptoms is the goal. Because colds are caused by a virus, classic antibacterial antibiotics are useless. The following are steps to reduce symptoms:

  • Take a pain reliever such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen or aspirin. Talk to your doctor before giving any child with cold symptoms a fever aspirin; unwanted side effects can occur.
  • Use nasal decongestant sprays. These work well to ease breathing but should only be used for two or three days. If used too long, the user can develop dependence.
  • Use cough medicines. This includes throat lozenges and liquid syrups. These will make you feel better, but they won’t resolve a cold any sooner.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Sports-like drinks, fruit juices, and warm tea and broths work well.  Chicken soup has been proven to make cold sufferers feel much better. Avoid alcoholic beverages or anything that can cause dehydration.
  • Take Vitamin C. 1000 milligrams a day for three to five days has been reported to be helpful.
  • Calm the throat. For sore throats, gargling with warm salt water or throat lozenges works well.
  • Get plenty of rest. Don’t over-extend yourself; allow your body’s immune system to strengthen and fight back.

We all get colds. It is a part of living. Hopefully, this information will lessen their frequency and symptoms. Remember, if you are concerned about any illness, contact your doctor immediately.

About Charles Crutchfield III MD

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor of biology at Carleton College. He also has a private practice, Crutchfield Dermatology in Eagan, MN. He received his MD and Master’s Degree in molecular biology and genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Minnesota Medicine recognized Dr. Crutchfield as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. Dr. Crutchfield specializes in skin-of-color and has been selected by physicians and nurses as one of the leading dermatologists in Minnesota for the past 18 years. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations and president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians. He can be reached at CrutchfieldDermatology.com or by calling 651-209-3600.

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