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What is a cold?

Updated: February 2020

You feel tired and your nose is running – straight away you diagnose yourself as having a ‘cold’. However, these common symptoms have nothing to do with coldness, but rather are due to easily transmittable viruses. Viruses initially affect the upper respiratory tract and result in the increased production of secretions in the nasal and pharyngeal mucous. From there, they can spread to the bronchi and paranasal sinuses. Most adults suffer from colds several times each year; children are affected even more frequently.

Cold: Symptoms

A blocked or runny nose is the first and sometimes the only symptom of a cold. Numerous other symptoms may be added during the course of a cold:

  • Cough
  • Blocked/runny nose (impaired nasal breathing, impaired ability to smell, nasal-sounding voice)
  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Pharyngitis (scratching and dryness in the throat, pain when swallowing)
  • Shivering
  • Elevated temperature (especially in children)
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Aching limbs

You also may develop laryngitis, with the following symptoms:

  • Hoarseness and irritation of the throat
  • Severe sore throat
  • Loss of voice

Cold (flu-like infection): Causes

A cold, which is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, is caused by various different viruses. Contagion occurs when droplets are sneezed or coughed. A weakened immune system encourages the emergence of the infection, for example if the sufferer is not on good form due to the effects of coldness or stress. Over 200 types of virus can trigger a cold. The most frequent cause is the rhinovirus (in over 40% of all colds). Colds are more common in colder months than in the summer. This is probably due to the fact that people more frequently spend time with others in enclosed spaces during the winter.

Progression of a cold

A cold usually lasts between seven and ten days. You should visit the doctor if the infection spreads beyond the nasopharyngeal cavity. Indications of this could be: fever above 39 degrees, severe throat or ear pain, a severe, dry cough, difficulty breathing, severe headache.

In order to avoid complications, cold sufferers should rest and give their immune system time to fight the viruses.

The progression of a cold may look very different. In a healthy immune system and where the pathogen concentration is low, the outbreak of the illness can be prevented or its progression lessened.

What provides relief from a cold?

Since a cold is a viral infection, there is no specific medication to treat it. A cold usually comes to an end after eight to ten days. To relieve the symptoms and to promote faster healing, you should take good care of your body, stop smoking and drink plenty of fluids.

Pain-relieving medication may be used to relieve headaches and aching limbs. Decongestant nasal drops also may be used to ease breathing.

References:

www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/symptoms-causes/syc-20351605

www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/understanding-common-cold-basics#1

www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/