A runny nose, non-stop sneezing, an itchy throat… we all know the signs of the common cold. But do we really know what a cold is? Is it the same as the flu? And how is it that some people get colds a lot more often than others? No doubt these are all questions that have crossed our minds over the years. After all, according to the CDC, there are an estimated 1 billion colds a year in America alone. We’re bound to get struck down by this simple-but-incurable illness at some point. To help you understand this mysterious illness better as well as how to treat it, we have the inside scoop on the all-too-common cold and home remedies.
Cold vs Flu
The common cold is an illness that is caused by a virus, one of over 200 types that can infect your nose and throat. While a common cold is typically harmless, it can cause several days of misery. A week to 10 days, in fact. The most common symptoms of a cold are:
- a sore throat
- runny or congested nose
- a cough
- low-grade fever
- slight body aches
- a mild headache
Because flu symptoms are similar to the common cold, it’s easy enough for people to mistake one for the other. So, when is a cold not a cold? First, flu symptoms – the sore throat, fever, muscle ache, congestion, headache, and cough – are typically more severe. Some types of flu such as swine flu also cause vomiting and diarrhea.
For example, instead of a low-grade fever, flu symptoms would be more like a high temp fever coupled with chills and aches. Aside from the severity of the symptoms, flu can lead to serious health problems such as bacterial infections and pneumonia. While your flu may abate after a week (much like the common cold), you will be feeling the aftereffects for an additional week or so. You’re going to feel like you just ran several marathons and never got a medal for it. Fatigue, weakness, dry cough, and reduced energy are going to remain your companions for at least a week after battling with a bout of flu.
6 Home Remedies for the Common Cold
While the common cold isn’t usually life threatening, its symptoms aren’t anything to sniff at. Anyone who has had a cold knows how miserable the experience can be. Despite the fact that there is no effective treatment to make your cold go away, there are some home remedies you can take that will help provide relief from the symptoms and reduce discomfort.
- Rest. Yes, good ole fashioned rest can do wonders for your body. It allows your body to heal, using up your energy to fight the infection instead of other activities. As an added bonus, you’re not going to be spreading the virus to other people if you’re resting at home.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking lots of fluids will not only help soothe your sore throat, it will also moisturize the lining of your nose and throat. This helps loosen congestion. Water, diluted juice, broths, teas, and soups are all good options for treating the cold. But alcohol and caffeine should be avoided as they can cause dehydration.
- Use an air humidifier or cool-mist vaporizer. This will keep the air moist which can also help in loosening congestion and reduce coughing. This can be especially helpful at night when you need to sleep. Make sure to clean the humidifier or vaporizer daily to keep the water fresh and free from microbes and mold.
- Gargle with salt water. Get temporary relief from a sore or itchy throat by gargling salt water. The recommended mixture is 1/2 teaspoon of salt with 8 ounces of warm water. You can also soothe your sore throat using ice chips, lozenges, and sore throat sprays. You can also soothe your sore throat using ice chips, lozenges, and sore throat sprays.
- Use a nasal spray. Saline nasal sprays obtained from your local pharmacy can help provide relief from congestion and a stuffy nose. You can safely use this kind of spray for 3 to 5 days but make sure to avoid prolonged use.
- Take OTC medications. Yes, this isn’t exactly a home remedy but experts agree that OTC antihistamines, pain relievers, and decongestants will offer some relief from the symptoms. Take note that it won’t shorten the duration of your cold. Make sure to follow the directions indicated by the manufacturer. Also, avoid giving OTC medications to young children without your pediatrician’s approval.
4 False Remedies for the Common Cold
- Antibiotics. Because your cold is caused by a virus, taking antibiotics is a waste of time because those are designed to attack bacteria, a whole different organism. Aside from not giving you any relief the symptoms, using antibiotics inappropriately contributes to the growing problem of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.
- Applying Vicks VapoRub on your feet. While a lot of mothers swear by it, there is no actual evidence that proves this to be effective in treating colds. While it won’t hurt to put some on your feet, you’ll be better off applying it under your nose to open up your breathing passages.
- Feed a cold, starve a fever. While your body will require energy to fight off the viral infection, “feeding” your cold isn’t going to make you feel better. All it’s going to do is make you feel full.
- Vitamin C. There’s nothing wrong with taking vitamin C but it won’t be helping you get rid of a cold. It can’t even prevent you from getting a cold. What it can do is shorten the duration of your illness. That is if you are already taking vitamin C before the start of the symptoms.