Get the facts on the common cold

The common cold is attributed to more than 200 types of viruses.

This viral infection of the upper respiratory tract has no silver bullet for treatment, but it is important to know what you are dealing with during cold season.

Dr. Lucy Folino, doctor of osteopathic medicine and primary-care physician with Meritus Urgent Care at Meritus Medical Plaza, said adults can expect two to three colds a year, and children can contract five to seven.

The cold is spread through droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus remains on surfaces for 48 hours and is easily transmitted by hand-to-hand contact and when you touch your eyes, mouth and nose, she said.

Symptoms of the common cold include:

• Body aches

• Congestion

• Cough

• Low-grade fever

• Mild headache

• Runny or stuffy nose

• Sore throat

• Sneezing

• Feeling unwell and tired

Symptoms develop two to three days after the virus is contracted, and the illness can last anywhere from seven to 10 days.

Your body is capable of fighting the infection, but it takes time.

The biggest misconception about a cold is the belief that it can be cured with antibiotics.

“The cold is a viral infection and antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viruses,” Folino said.

She emphasized that unnecessarily taking antibiotics can disrupt your gut flora, which aids in digestion.

“Misusing antibiotics increases the risk that bacteria will develop drug resistance,” she said.

Folino pointed to a second misconception: the yellow or greenish discharge from your nose is a sign of a bacterial infection. In reality, the discharge is an indicator that the cold is running its course.

“It’s also not unusual for a cough to persist weeks after other cold symptoms have passed,” she said, suggesting using honey or maple syrup to calm a cough.

The best way to treat a cold is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. To address body aches and fever, Folino recommended taking ibuprofen every six hours and acetaminophen in between doses.

“Be sure to follow label directions,” she said.

Chicken soup and other warm liquids help loosen congestion, as does a cool-mist humidifier.

See a health care provider when:

• Symptoms last longer than 10 days

• There is only a sore throat or swollen glands, which might indicate strep throat

• You have a fever higher than 102 degrees

• You have facial pain and a high fever

People with weakened immune systems are more prone to catching colds and should see a health care provider soon after symptoms develop. For most healthy children and adults, there is little need to see a health care provider for the common cold.

While recovering from a cold takes time, the good news is that you won’t catch the same cold virus twice. There are hundreds of cold viruses lurking about, though, so Folino said to wash your hands frequently, avoid close contact with anyone who has a cold, and always cover your coughs and sneezes.