A cold is a contagious viral disease which infects the soft lining (mucous membrane) of the nose. There are more than 100 different viruses which can result in a cold. The characteristic symptom is a runny nose. Usually, it is a mild condition, recovery taking place within about a week.
However, sometimes the same symptoms occur with other illnesses like influenza. It is most common during the cold winter months and affects children and adults of all ages. Most people will catch a cold two to four times a year; a person is contagious from the day before the illness breaks out until one to three days after they feel better. The infection is spread by airborne droplets when the sufferer coughs or sneezes.
It can also be spread by hand if someone has the virus on their hands and then puts them close to their eyes or nose. This is possibly the most common way of catching a cold. Usually a common cold causes no serious trouble and symptoms will clear up in one to two weeks. Possible complications include inflammation of the eyes, sinusitis and inflammation of the middle ear, tonsillitis or even in severe cases pneumonia.
The reason for these complications may be that a germ infects the irritated mucous membrane. There is no effective way of treating an ordinary cold. If the sufferer has no other diseases than the common cold, and it goes away in one to two weeks, there is no reason to see a doctor. Since a cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not appropriate.
Symptoms such as cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and headache can be relieved by a variety of over-the-counter medicines. You can get advice from pharmacists about which are most suitable for you and your symptoms.
There is no need to reduce daily activities but you should expect to become tired more easily. The symptoms can be relieved by warm drinks.
Nasal decongestants may ease breathing. Sleep with the head on a high pillow.
Avoid smoking; it irritates the mucous membrane of the nose further. Throw away paper tissues after use to prevent the spread of infection. With a minor cold it is better to try to continue as normal, although if symptoms persist it is advisable to rest for a few days and take plenty of fluids.