Sunday, January 27, 2008

Apple #295: Basics about the Common Cold

I'm getting a cold. I can feel it. My chest is all heavy, my right ear feels clogged, I'm completely drained and slightly dizzy, and I feel like I've been pummeled for hours with wet socks and then had most of the oomph sucked out of me.

Colds really do make you feel lousy.
(Photo from NP Central's medical article on treating the common cold)

I know how I got this, too. I went on a business trip, and my manager had a stubborn, major cold. We went to dinner with some sales people, and we all shared two desserts. The waiter didn't bring us individual dessert plates, and for a moment, I hesitated, wondering if I should ask for some. Then I thought, no, we're all fine, forgetting entirely about the fact that my manager had been blowing her nose so much all day, it was red and chapped. So the four of us blithely dug in to the desserts together.


We all made some other mistakes, too. Here are some facts about colds that maybe will help people stop spreading them so much to each other:

  • While it is true that you are most likely to spread your cold in the first 2 to 4 days after the symptoms appear, the cold can still be contagious for up to 3 weeks.
  • So even if you don't feel completely lousy but you're still blowing your nose a lot, you can pass it on pretty easily.

Colds are caused by rhinoviruses. There are hundreds of known varieties of the virus. These are 4 of them. Unpleasant-looking little wads, aren't they?
(Image from the NIH's International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses page for Rhinoviruses)

  • If you have a cold, don't smoke. Easier said than done, I know, but chances are, your body probably doesn't feel much like smoking anyway, so pay attention to that. Smoking makes your cold last longer, and it could make your symptoms worse or lead to something like bronchitis or pneumonia. And secondhand smoke that's got one of the rhinoviruses in it is going to make it easier for that rhinovirus to take root in someone else.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after blowing your nose.
  • Cover your nose and your mouth when coughing or sneezing. It's such a simple and considerate thing to do, but it really helps keep those rhinoviruses from flying around any farther.
  • Drink when you first feel thirsty -- if you wait, you're allowing yourself to get dehydrated, and that won't help your body fight the cold.
  • Good things to drink include water, fruit juices, warm broth, or warm water with honey and lemon.

Hot honey & lemon beverage, served at a place called Delicious, which I think might be in Malaysia. But you can make this yourself.
(Image from the blog masak-masak, which is all about food)

  • Drinkables that won't do your body a favor include caffeine and alcohol. They don't quench your thirst but sap it further, and they put more stress on your system.
  • Make sure to get enough rest. Your body has to work hard to get rid of that virus, so let it do its job!
  • If someone else has a cold, don't share eating utensils (here's where I say to us again, duh), drinking glasses, beverage cans or bottles, or even towels.
  • Don't pick up someone else's used tissues. If you do, wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you can.
  • Try not to rub your eyes or your nose if you're around someone who is sick. If you are sick yourself, it's probably also a good idea to keep yourself from doing that as much as you can.
  • If you are sick, sometimes aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce the aches or a fever. But NEVER give aspirin to children younger than 12.

Aspirin: OK for adults. Not OK for children.
(Photo from

  • Also, NEVER give any cold "medicine" or antihistamines to children under 2. Even in children between the ages of 3 and 12, those cold medicines really won't do much except elevate your child's heart rate and make him or her really thirsty. They could also give your child hallucinations and wacky dreams and irregular heartbeats. So it's best not to give those to your children at all.

Cough syrup: don't bother. It doesn't help; it could make things worse. Save your cash for the orange juice.
(Image from Stork Avenue News)

  • And for the adults, those cold medications and cough syrups might fool you into thinking they're helping, but they're really only suppressing the symptoms, not treating them. The fact that you're not coughing or blowing your nose as often might allow you to think you feel better, so you might go on working at your usual pace and not getting enough rest, etc., so your cold might actually last longer because you've taken those things.
  • Things like zinc (Cold-Eze or Zicam), extra vitamin C, Airborne, echinacea, and even chicken soup have not been proven definitively to shorten a cold's duration. But no one has been able to prove that they don't help, either. And some people swear that they do help. So you can give them a shot, but there's no guarantee. Just make sure you don't overdo it.
  • The average cold lasts about 1 week, but some can last as long as 2 weeks. So get your rest, wash your hands, take care of yourself and those around you.
  • And please -- if you're sick, do your classmates, your teachers, your co-workers a favor. Stay home. That's what sick days are for.

See how happy this woman is, at home, asleep in her bed? If you've got a cold, your body wants you to be at home, sleeping like this too!

I did it again. I thought I had a cold, but really it was the flu. Wondering how to tell the difference if it's a cold or the flu? I did some more research on the topic, and I think I finally get it. Er, understand it, I should say.

KidsHealth, Infections, Common Cold
Mayo Clinic, Infections Disease, Cold remedies: What works, what doesn't, what can't hurt

1 comment:

  1. Hoping that The Apple Lady is snoozing soundly & kicking her cold's stinking self on outta there!


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