Everyone knows what a cold is and what it feels like — theoretically. The common cold comes in many different shapes and forms, because it is actually a term for a set of symptoms that can come from a wide variety of causes. Regardless of when or why it strikes, the common cold is very disruptive of your normal schedule and can leave you feeling miserable.
Causes. Simply put, the common cold is an upper respiratory viral infection. Exactly what virus causes it varies according to each individual case, because many viruses can produce similar symptoms. The Mayo Clinic explains, “Because any one of more than 100 viruses can cause a common cold, signs and symptoms tend to vary greatly.”
Treatment. Some antiviral drugs on the market will work for some causes of cold. However, since most colds aren’t serious unless you’re immune deficient, doctors generally recommend letting the illness run its course while taking measures to manage the symptoms. These may include using a humidifier, applying vapor rub, taking cough drops, drinking soothing liquids or gargling salt water. The various remedies for the common cold vary almost as widely as the viruses that can cause it.
Prevention. Colds are usually spread through contact — either direct or indirect — with the bodily fluids of someone who is infected. This could be something as simple as someone touching his or her eyes or lips and then touching something else without washing the hands first, or kissing, or sharing any products or items that come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to practice good hygiene and wash your hands frequently — especially if you’re symptomatic or around someone who is symptomatic for a cold. Make sure to always cover your coughs or sneezes to prevent contagion through the air, and pay particular attention to clean clothes and hygiene when you’re around a small child who is sick or who is exposed to other children during cold and flu season.