You may never have counted how many times in your life you've caught a cold but you'll be glad to know that the common cold is one of the commonest ailments in the world. Actually, one could almost go so far as to say that there is no-one who has never caught a cold at some time or other in their life.
Below we explain the whys and wherefores of colds.
What is a cold?
We use the term cold to refer to a group of very frequent ailments caused by one or several viruses.
We could, in fact, say that a cold is a minor infection of viral origin which generally affects the respiratory tract, that is, the nose and throat. Sometimes, however, the infection can spread to the trachea and the bronchi.
In principle, a cold is nothing more than that and usually lasts between three and seven days.
However, care must be taken when whoever has caught the cold is a small child, a pregnant woman or an elderly person, because a cold can open the door to other, more serious conditions.
When you catch a cold, up to a hundred viruses could be responsible, although the most usual ones are the rhinoviruses and coronaviruses.
Why do we catch a cold?
A cold is quite unforeseeable. We can take steps to try and avoid it but, generally, the symptoms start appearing one after another and then it's too late to do anything about it.
You could say that the cold takes advantage of a time when our defences are low to take over our body.
Yet there are also certain times of the year when it's easier to catch a cold:
- at the beginning of autumn
- in the spring
The commonest symptoms of a cold are:
How to avoid a cold
Colds are ailments which are passed on very easily by vectors as common as air, coughing and sneezing, or by physical contact, for example with handkerchiefs, towels or cutlery. It's therefore pretty difficult to stop them spreading.
To date, no vaccine has yet been found to prevent or even fight colds, because so many viruses are involved, and they mutate every year anyway, that it's impossible to control them.
However, there are some steps we can take to avoid them:
- Avoid contact with persons who have a cold.
- Wash our hands often and use a paper towel for drying them.
- Keep warm.
- Avoid stuffy atmospheres.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C (oranges, kiwis, mandarins, strawberries, mangoes, vegetables).
- Consume dairy products.
Once you do have a cold, the best thing you can do is find a treatment to alleviate or get rid of the symptoms, but remember that nothing will be able to cure it.
There are many medicines for alleviating cold symptoms. It's advisable to use ones that target the symptoms you're suffering from. The pharmacist will be able to advise you regarding which medicines are the most appropriate ones in each case.
If there's no improvement after several days, see your doctor.
Besides these medicines, the following guidelines may also help towards a cure:
- Cut down on your physical activity.
- Drink plenty of liquid, especially water and natural fruit juices.
- Stay out of dry, stuffy atmospheres. Essences such as eucalyptus or menthol may be used to freshen a room.
- Don't smoke.
- Keep up your personal hygiene, especially if you perspire a lot.
Differences and coincidences between colds and flu
Sometimes when we have a runny nose, cough and sore throat we think we have flu, yet we might only have a cold.
The table below shows the differences between one and the other.
As we said before, whenever you have a cold it's important to keep up your fluid intake, keep covered up so that you don't get cold, and get plenty of rest.
Even so, it's best to follow the guidelines pautes that can help you to get rid of it, or at least make it more bearable.
The common cold is possibly mankind's commonest ailment
In the year 2000 the European Committee for Studying the Common Cold was officially set up in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.
A doctor from the Common Cold Research Centre calculated that a person aged 75 would have had about 200 colds, and would therefore have spent some three years of his/her life sniffling, coughing and sneezing!
You have to be careful when talking about colds in different languages because in Spanish, for example, to have a cold is to be "constipado", whereas in English and French to be "constipated" means something quite different...!!!!