The cold is a very common infection of the nose (or more specifically nasal cavity) and throat, caused by a virus. Also called viral or acute rhinitis, it causes a sore throat, sneezing, a feeling of stuffy nose (nasal congestion) and a runny nose. The duration of symptoms is often longer than what is commonly conveyed. The median duration was 11 days in a study of 346 adults with uncomplicated common cold.
The common cold is most often caused by rhinoviruses, which are part of the picornavirus family, which have more than 100 different serotypes.
The body meets and neutralizes cold viruses several times a year. When a cold appears, it is because the immune system has failed to prevent infection with the virus.
Colds mostly affect young children as their immune system is developing and they are more likely to come in contact with the viruses that cause the disease.
|Cold or flu?
In case of flu, one feels particularly “petty”, and the whole body feels the effects: great fatigue, muscle aches, fever, headaches, etc.
As for the cold, it is translated by symptoms more “light”:
For more information, consult our Flu sheet. It should be noted that colds can also be mistaken for respiratory allergies. See our page Rhinitis allergic.
Surveys have revealed that a normal child can have 6 to 10 episodes of cold per year. Adults have two to four. During each cold, the body develops immunity against the particular virus that caused the episode in question. Over time, the body gains immunity against many of the viruses that cause colds.
From the arrival of autumn until the end of spring, colds are more common. We then spend more time indoors, which contributes to the contagion. Also, during the winter, the air is generally drier in the houses, which dries the mucous membranes of the nose. These become less effective at fighting viruses and preventing the onset of a cold. In southern countries, colds are more common during the rainy season.
The cold is a contagious disease. To cause a cold, cold viruses must first attach to the mucous membranes of our nose, eyes or mouth. Unlike the skin, the mucous membranes do not form a very tight barrier against microbes. Viruses can reach the mucous membranes by inhaling fine, contaminated droplets, such as when a person with a cold coughs or sneezes.
The cold can also be spread by hand contact with an infected person or a contaminated object (glasses, utensils, toys, etc.), when the hands are then brought to the mouth, nose or eyes. The virus can survive for up to 7 days on inanimate and dry surfaces. The incubation period is very short, ranging from a dozen hours (rhinovirus) to a few days.
The cold itself does not cause any complications. However, it weakens the mucous membranes, which can be “colonized” secondarily by bacteria. This is called bacterial superinfection. The signs of bacterial superinfection in the sinuses are a thickened nasal discharge and the prolongation of symptoms over several weeks. Bacteria can also cause other conditions as a result of a cold. Thus, in children, the most common complication is otitis media. A persistent cold can also promote sinusitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, and even, rarely, pneumonia. It can also reactivate the herpes simplex viruswhich causes cold sores and genital herpes, weakening the body.
When to consult a doctor?
Generally, it is not necessary to consult a doctor in case of a simple cold. In most cases, the symptoms disappear on their own in about a week.
However, in the presence of any of the following symptoms, which are signs of a complication (otitis, sinusitis, etc.) or a health problem more serious than colds, it is better to consult a doctor. Doctor.
- Intense symptoms that affect the whole body. For example, fever of 39.5 ° C (103 F) or more, chills or sweats, headache;
- Nasal secretions that persist for more than 10 days, sometimes becoming yellowish and thicker;
- The pain lingering in the ear, the appearance of conjunctivitis or intense pain in the face or forehead (sinusitis);
- A cough that persists more than 7 days after the disappearance of the other symptoms;
- In children : persistent crying or very fast breathing; blue lips;
- In the child, a cough so severe that he chokes or vomits;
- The occurrence of a cold in a baby under 4 months, because there is a risk of respiratory failure.
Symptoms of A cold
- A sore throat , which is usually the very first symptom;
- Of sneezing and nasal congestion;
- A runny nose (rhinorrhea) that often requires blowing your nose The secretions are rather clear;
- A slight fatigue;
- The watery eyes;
- Mild headache;
- Sometimes a cough;
- Sometimes a little fever (about a degree above normal);
- Wheezing in children with asthma
People at risk for a cold
- Young children: most children have a first cold before the age of 1 and remain particularly vulnerable until they are 6 years old, due to the immaturity of their immune system. The fact that they are in contact with other children (in kindergarten, daycare or nursery) also increases their risk of catching colds. With age, colds become less common.
- People whose immune system is weakened by a drug or illness. In addition, the symptoms are more pronounced in these people.
- The stress. A meta-analysis of 27 prospective studies confirmed that stress was a significant risk factor.
- Smoking . The cigarette produces a local irritating effect on the respiratory tract which decreases local defenses and weakens the immune system.
- A recent plane trip is a possible risk factor. A questionnaire was administered to 1,100 passengers flying between San Francisco and Denver, Colorado. One in five, 20%, reported having a cold within 5 to 7 days after the flight. Recirculation or no air in the cabin had no effect on the incidence of colds.
- Practice intense physical exercises. Athletes who train excessively would be more prone to colds.
|Basic preventive measures|
To have good resistance to infections:
|Measures to prevent complications|
Medical treatments for colds
In the majority of cases, colds disappear spontaneously. No treatment can get rid of the virus faster. In fact, the treatment is essentially to make the cold less painful by relieving the symptoms: sore throat, headache, nasal congestion. Because colds are caused by viruses and not by bacteria, antibiotics have no effect. In addition, no vaccine exists to prevent colds since, unlike influenza (caused only by a few kinds of viruses); more than 100 viruses can be involved. It only remains to let time do its work.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra, Acet). This medication effectively treats headache and mild fever. It is important to follow the dosage, since acetaminophen can cause liver damage if taken too frequently or at higher doses than recommended by the manufacturer. In adults, the maximum daily dose is 4 g. In children, the dose varies according to their weight.
- Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), can also be used to relieve pain and fever.
- The aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is against-indicated in children; it can cause Reye’s syndrome , a serious illness.
- Decongestants. Decongestants in the form of nasal sprays (Dristan, Otrivin) are not recommended in children because of their low efficacy and side effects. In adolescents and adults, they can be used for up to 3 days. Prolonged use may irritate the fragile mucous membranes of the nose and cause chronic inflammation. Decongestants taken orally cause fewer problems. As a decongestant, you can also simply use saline by inhalation (see box below). To relieve clear nasal discharge, ipratropium nasal spray (Atrovent nasal), which has a drying effect, but has no decongestant effect can be used.
- Cold medicines. Many brands offer cold medications, which usually include an ibuprofen or acetaminophen pain reliever, which also fights fever, and an oral decongestant (pseudoephedrine), sometimes in the form of day / night tablets. These medications (Actifed, Advil colds and sinus, Benylin colds and flu…) can relieve symptoms, but do not accelerate healing and are not recommended for children. Be sure to respect the dosage.
|And cough syrups?
The cold is sometimes accompanied by a cough or a dry cough. The cough is not bad in itself, on the contrary. The cough allows expelling secretions. There is no good evidence that cough syrups, such as dextromethorphan or guaiafenesine, are effective.
Some care to improve comfort
The following measures are recommended by doctors. It is best to apply them at the first sign of colds or chills.
- Will rest a lot to support the immune system.
- Drink at least 2 liters of water and other drinks a day to avoid dehydration (hot drinks, such as herbal teas and soup, provide a lot of comfort).
- To relieve sore throat, gargle with warm salt water several times a day.
- To decongest the nose (including in children), drop a few drops of saline into each nostril.
For ease of application, lie on your back and tilt your head back. There are also vaporizers that make the application easier. Clean the inside of the nostrils with a swab (cotton swab). Put a few drops of saline again in each nostril. Blow your nose or, in the case of a young child, aspirate the mucus with a nasal bulb.
This technique could also help relieve hay fever.
Saline solutions are readily available in pharmacies (eg Salinex, Hydrasense). You can also prepare one yourself.
|Homemade Saline Solution
Dissolve 1/2 tsp. teaspoon salt in 8 oz (240 mL) boiled and cooled water. It is important to respect this proportion, otherwise we risk irritating the mucous membranes of the nose. Keep the solution in a clean bottle with a dropper. Repeat a new solution every 3 days.
– Take hot showers or hot baths.
– Stay warm, but do not overheat the bedroom, which dries the air and makes breathing more difficult.
– Use a humidifier as needed. According to Health Canada, it is good to keep the homes humidity at 50% during the summer and 30% during the winter (a hygrometer can measure the humidity).
– To relieve skin irritation around the nostrils, apply some petroleum jelly to the sensitive area.