What is the common cold?
When the colder months hit, the tissue boxes come out and it seems like the office is a chorus of snorts, coughs and throat clearing. Avoiding the common cold can be hard but by understanding how we catch it, we can give ourselves the best chance to support our immune system and help prevent the common cold.
For more information, read up on articles from our Cold, flu & immunity health hub
What causes a cold?
The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) caused by a virus, which is most often transferred through droplets. When you sneeze or cough or blow your nose when you’re sick, any fluid coming out is contaminated with the virus. Then if someone were to touch a surface with these contaminated droplets and then touch their eyes or mouth or nose, they are at risk of spreading the virus to themselves.
That is why, when sick, it is important to cover your mouth (with a tissue!) when coughing or to use the crook of your elbow. It is also worth washing your hands often so you don’t contaminate surfaces and get others sick. If you are trying to avoid the cold, then be sure not to touch foods or your face without washing your hands first.
Stress less and eat for immunity
We have all heard that stress can affect the immune system, and leave you more susceptible to getting sick. But did you know that lack of sleep can also do the same? We recommend getting plenty of sleep, and minimising stress.
Try exercising for immune health
if you feel stress taking over and remember to eat nutritional foods to fuel your body properly. Look for foods high in vitamin c and add them to your diet.
Hand washing is an art
While we don’t recommend going overboard and drying out your hands, it is especially important to wash your hands during the cold and flu season.
The best way to kill germs on your hands is to wash them for a minimum of 15 seconds under lukewarm or cold water. Hot water can dry out your skin and make it more susceptible to infection. Paired with soap and scrubbing, this should nullify 90% of germs, which goes up to 99.99% if you wash and scrub for 30 seconds.
Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t need a special soap! Soaps don’t kill viruses, the detergent just helps wash the virus off the hands.
Washing with soap and water is much more effective than using hand sanitizer, but if that is all you have, then make sure you get one with at least 60% alcohol.
When washing your hands, be mindful to scrub in all the creases, in between your fingers, around your thumb and under your fingernails. Rubbing your hands together will cause friction, which is helpful in “loosening” the virus from your skin.
Feeling under the weather?
So you have been hand washing, eating well, and avoiding stress but still managed to catch the sniffles?
What are the main cold symptoms?
It will take a day or so of being exposed to a cold virus for you to start experiencing symptoms.
Some people start sniffling first with a runny nose and others feel that they have an itchy or blocked throat. You may start sneezing or get what feels like a cough headache.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Mild headache
- Low grade fever
- Blocked or sore throat
- Aches and pains
It is always worth checking with your doctor if you are feeling more than just uncomfortable or if your symptoms persist, worsen or change.
What are the stages of a cold?
The common cold – often referred to as a head cold – lasts between 7 and 10 days on average.
Once the first symptoms start to show, you are most probably on day one or two of your 7-10 day cold. This is when you are most contagious so be sure to take steps to avoid infecting others, e.g.:
- Don’t share drinks or eating utensils
- Cover your mouth with a tissue when coughing
- Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after blowing your nose or coughing
- Avoid kissing
The sniffles and an itchy throat tend to kick it off and then around the third day you might start to cough and get more nasal congestion. When you blow your nose, you may see that your snot is no longer clear but is tinged with a green or yellow colour and is thicker than normal. This means your immune system is at work! The infection-fighting white blood cells that rush to the area have a slight green colour, which is what you see when you blow your nose.
Generally a cold will have run its course after a week and on the last few days cold symptoms will begin to ease. If you feel that you are getting sicker at this point, it could mean that you have a secondary infection.
If you pushed too hard while fighting a cold and didn’t get enough sleep, your body could have picked up another cold or flu virus or bacterial infection while your immune system was working overtime. That is why it is important to rest up!
How to find relief from a cold
When we catch a cold we do need to let it run its course, but you do not need to feel miserable for a week to 10 days.
There are ways you can ease a cold and find relief of the symptoms.
The first two steps are to get plenty of rest and drink enough water to keep hydrated. You want to give your body the best conditions to fight the infection. Staying hydrated and sleep are also important for your immune system health and to help with your recovery.
Here are some other tips to ease your cold:
- Fix a sore throat with a saltwater gargle: ½ tsp salt in a cup of water
- Nasal flush with saline solution
- Sipping on warm liquids like tea and chicken soup
- Sleep with a humidifier
- Add garlic to meals or juice when juicing
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Try some light exercise
Here are some things to avoid while down with the cold
- Smoking, as this irritates the lungs
- Overusing decongestant sprays, as they can irritate your nasal membranes
- Dairy, as it can make your mucus thicker and therefore make you feel worse
- Alcohol, as it can lead to dehydration
- Too much coffee - if you feel like you need a lot of coffee your body is probably telling you to get some more sleep instead!
- Sugary drinks and treats, as excess sugar intake has been linked to an oppressed immune system immediately after consumption
So there you have it, a guide to the common cold.