8/30/2018. Article created by Jon McNamara.
With the average adult catching it two to three times a year and children catching it six to eight times a year, the common cold (which can be caught year round) lives up to its namesake by being the most common type of infectious illness in humans. This viral infection is characterized by many medical symptoms, including upper respiratory tract symptoms, including nasal congestion, excess mucus production, sore throat, fevers, and sneezing, as well as body-wide malaise and fatigue. While most people can recognize the symptoms of the common cold, though, there’s a lot of wrong information about the common cold that you shouldn’t believe.
1) It’s Caused by a Single Virus
A single virus is not responsible for the common cold. Instead, it’s caused by one of more than 200 different viruses which can and often do change each season, the most common of which is the rhinovirus. Doctors are still discovering new strains.
2) It’s Treatable with Antibiotics
People often view antibiotics as the cure-all solution to any infection. Or they think they can pop some type of prescription drug. Since Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have proven instrumental in treating diseases. However, the common cold is a result of a virus, so it’s not treatable with antibiotics. These medicines are only useful for treating bacterial infections, not viral or fungal infections.
3) It’s Always Symptomatic
You won’t always develop symptoms from a cold infection. Statistics show that roughly one-quarter of all colds are asymptomatic, i.e., 1 in 4 people who catch one will show no signs of it. But it still can be spread, leading to health issues for others. The virus is still present inside the nasal passages, but the host’s immune system response is strong enough to prevent symptoms from manifesting.
4) You Can Only Catch It During Winter
Although it’s more common during winter, you can catch a cold infection any time of the year. The reason the common cold is more common during winter is that warmer temperatures promote a stronger immune system response to cold-causing viruses. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the immune system produces more cold-fighting proteins, known as interferons, in warm temperatures than cool temperatures. But while cold infections are more common during winter, many people catch them during spring and summer as well.
5) There’s a Vaccine or Prescription Medication for It
There are vaccines available for certain bacterial and viral infections, but there’s no functional vaccine for the common cold. There are a few reasons for this, one of which is the sheer number of viruses that cause colds. Furthermore, those viruses mutate rapidly, so even if someone were to develop a vaccine that currently protects against a cold, it might only work for a few months.
6) Vitamin C Will Prevent It
Vitamin C is essential to cellular growth and repair. In recent years, though, some supplement companies have been marketing vitamin C as a cold preventative. They claim that taking large doses (known as megadosing) boosts the immune system so that it can fight off cold infections. Numerous studies have since debunked this myth, however, revealing that vitamin C of any dosage doesn’t prevent or reduce the risk of colds. However, some evidence suggests that vitamin C may shorten the duration of a cold. So, if you catch a cold, try taking vitamin C, but if you’re looking to prevent one, don’t count on vitamin C or any other supplement.
7) It Can Only Spread Through Direct Contact
Avoiding people who already have a cold will reduce your risk of infection. However, direct contact is only one of many ways that cold viruses can spread; because they reside in mucus and nasal secretions, they can travel through the air or it can be stuck on physical items as well, and spread through touch, etc. Cold viruses can stay alive for up to a week without a host, so if an infected person sneezes on nearby surfaces, such as walls, doorknobs, floors, furniture, and windows, someone else can get infected by touching one of these surfaces.
8) You’re No Longer Contagious After Symptoms Have Subsided
You aren’t out of the woods just because your cold symptoms have subsided. You can remain contagious for up to two weeks after the symptoms are gone, and still both get sick as well as spread the illness. Unfortunately, this creates a false sense of security that exposes millions of people to the virus each year. A person, thinking their cold is gone, may believe it’s safe to visit public areas like grocery stores and parks. By going out, they continue to spread the virus to others and get others sick, thereby putting strains on doctor offices as well as hospitals.
9) There’s No Way to Shorten Its Duration
The good news is that you shorten the duration of a cold infection in several ways. Doctors recommend, among other things, getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated is a commonly prescribed treatment. Sleep promotes a healthy immune system, while fluids help to flush the virus from your body. Vitamin C and zinc supplements may also shorten the length of a cold. Some things can lengthen the duration of a cold, such as sugar, which stimulates the virus and encourages faster reproduction.
10) Drinking Milk Worsens It
There’s an age-old myth that you shouldn’t drink milk when suffering from the common cold or any other upper respiratory tract infection. The belief is that milk and other dairy products cause the body to produce more mucus. And when there’s more mucus in your nasal passages, cold viruses can thrive. The truth is that no dairy product affects mucus production. You can drink milk and eat cheese without worrying about it hindering your body’s ability to fight a cold.
Although it sends millions of Americans to the doctor each year, the common cold isn’t particularly dangerous. But it is one of the nation’s leading health care issues and expenditures. It’s a usually mild infection that resolves on its own. Nonetheless, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the common cold. With a better understanding of this viral infection, you can take the right measures to prevent and treat it.