By Angel Latt
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! In addition to the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic, we are entering the season of sniffly and stuffy noses, coughs and congestion, and piles of negative rapid tests as we self-diagnose ourselves with the common cold. We blame the rapid drop in temperature or our slightly sick friends we hung out with too closely or even the flu virus. We all have our own little remedies to treat our colds, whether through prescription painkillers or homeopathic teas and salves, we battle off our seasonal colds. However, what is the common cold exactly? Where does it come from? How is it different from the flu? Having gone through this inner turmoil myself recently, I did some digging.
The common cold is considered an upper respiratory infection, which affects mainly the sinuses and throat. As a result, you may experience a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, and congestion, and occasionally a low-grade fever, chills, and body aches. Upper respiratory infections are usually harmless and treatments include rest, drinking enough fluids, and OTC painkillers. If you experience a longer and intensified cold coupled with mostly coughing, then it is probably a sign of a lower respiratory infection, which affects your airways and lungs. Bronchitis and pneumonia are examples of lower respiratory infections. You might be wondering now, a lot of these symptoms also may seem similar to influenza symptoms, so how do I know what I have? While both the common cold and the flu are contagious respiratory infections, they are caused by different viruses. The common cold can come from a number of different viruses while the flu is only from influenza viruses. Flu symptoms are usually worse and more intense than the common cold, and a runny or stuffy nose is a trademark of the common cold. To prevent any odds of getting the flu, be sure to get vaccinated each year to protect yourself from influenza. Seasonal flu vaccines target influenza viruses that are indicated to be the most common during the upcoming season.
There are many ways to treat the common cold. In fact, you’ve probably seen an entire aisle at the drugstore specifically for colds. If you are experiencing fevers, headaches, or sore throats, you should try to get OTC painkillers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). For example, acetaminophen targets the COX enzymatic pathway, which is responsible for pain and inflammation, by reducing the production of COX enzyme in the brain and inhibiting its downstream pain nerve impulses. For nasal decongestion, look out for sprays or oral tablets containing phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine as active ingredients, which reduce the swelling of the blood vessels in your nasal passages to clear up your stuffy noses. For temporary relief from coughing, look out for oral capsules or lozenges containing dextromethorphan, which will relieve a cough by signaling the part of the brain that controls coughing, but it will not treat the cause of the cough.
While there are plenty of drugs that target our cold symptoms, sometimes it’s not enough and we look toward home remedies. The most important way to combat a cold is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Taking time off will give a chance for your body to heal and also prevent the spread of your cold to others, and staying hydrated especially with warm and hot liquids can soothe and clear your congestion. Humidifiers can also help by adding moisture to the air and loosening your congestion as well. I personally love a green tea with some lemon or lime and honey whenever I have a cold. So if you’re ever tackling a cold, I suggest trying it out!
As the temperature drops, most of us will end up blaming the cold for our colds. However, cold weather does not cause colds! There may be other factors that coincide with the cold weather, such as the fact that the cold drives most people indoors and in close proximity to one another, increasing the likelihood of catching a cold. Same goes with wet hair. Having wet hair during the winter time does not mean you are bound to catch a cold as it won't make you more susceptible to germs. Many people often resort to increasing their vitamin C intake during influenza and cold season, but contrary to popular belief, vitamin C does not prevent colds. There is minimal evidence that it may reduce how long a cold lasts. The best thing you can do to prevent catching a cold is to wash your hands, use tissues and masks when necessary, stay home when you are feeling ill, and most importantly to take care of yourself to avoid getting sick.
Being sick is an unpleasant struggle and inconvenience, especially as you get older and have responsibilities and tasks paused for a few days. However busy you may seem, take a moment to slow down and listen to your body. By resting and taking time off, your body will be able to devote more of its energy to fighting off your illness and for your immune system to do its job! If you are ever concerned about anything, contact your primary care physician, telehealth services, or mask up and visit your local urgent care. As the winter season approaches, hopefully everyone can stay warm and well!