by Kimberly Allen RN
Fall is upon us with winter closing in and the kids are back in school. Soon the kids will be bringing home more than homework. The common cold is the most common viral infection in the world. It affects everyone, young and old alike worldwide. Adults will usually have anywhere from 2-5 colds a year where as school children tend to have as many as 12 colds a year.
In the US there are 75-100 million visits to the Drs office for colds costing over $7 1/2 billion. In addition to that Americans are spending almost $3 million on over the counter medications and another $400 million on prescription medications to relieve the common cold. In addition to the high financial cost of the common cold children miss approximately 180 million school days causing parent to miss approximately 126 million workdays in order to stay home and care for their children that are home suffering from the common cold. Then you add the employees that miss 150 million workdays because they have a cold and the economic cost is significant, $20 billion a year accounting for 40% of the lost work due to illness every year in the US. That’s for only one of the common illnesses that comes with winter.
The common cold is a highly contagious viral infection. There are over 200 viruses that are known to cause the common cold, the most common being the rhino viruses causing 30%-35% of adult colds. Other common culprits include the adenoviruses, corona virus and the para influenza virus and that’s only a small portion of the viruses that can cause a common cold. This is the main reason colds are such a recurring problem. There’s just no way your body can build a resistance to all of them.
These viruses usually affect the areas in the upper respiratory tract, ie your mouth, nose and throat, which leads to the typical symptoms of the common cold like the sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion and cough. What makes the common cold so contagious is how easily and quickly it spreads, especially in children. all you have to do is touch something that has been either touched by someone that already has a cold or someone coughed or sneezed and droplets landed on it. Things like toys, door knobs and faucets are commonly touched objects especially in public places. The viruses that cause the common cold can live almost anywhere including pens, telephones, computers, especially the keyboard and mouse as well as books for several hours making it possible to become infected hours after the object was contaminated.
So far there is no “cure” for the common cold, mostly because there are too many viruses that can cause it and antibiotics will not help because a cold is a viral infection not a bacterial one. However, there are medications available that can speed your recovery. There are also numerous over the counter medications like acetaminophen and nasal decongestants that can help relieve the symptoms of a common cold. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the FDA strongly recommend that children under the age of 2 not be given over the counter cold medicines. There are also a variety of herbs and supplements that are popular for relieving cold symptoms the most common being vitamin C, others also feel that echinacea also can shorten the life of a cold.
You may not be able to prevent all your colds but there are things you can do to reduce them. Top of the list is practice good handwashing and teach children to do the same. If you have a cold carry tissues and sneeze or cough into the tissue and then dispose of them immediately. If you or your child doesn’t have a tissue then cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow instead of your hand as your hand can spread the virus much faster than an arm. Keep common areas clean especially counter tops and wash children’s toys frequently. Another important component of preventing colds is strengthening your immune system. The best way to strengthen your immune system is to eat a well balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables as well as regular exercise.