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Archive for Saturday, December 2, 2000

Cough, sneeze

Get out the tissues and cough syrup, it’s that time of year

December 2, 2000

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There's a reason they call it the common cold.

Each year, sooner or later, just about everybody's going to get one.

There are nearly 62 million cases of the common cold annually in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That leads to about 22 million school-loss days each year. And nearly 45 million bed days are annually associated with the common cold.

That's a lot of runny noses.

If you truly want to avoid the possibility of catching a cold, you better be prepared to live as a hermit because catching colds is the price you pay for living among other people.

Children have six to 10 colds per year, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In families with children in school, the number of colds per child can reach 12 a year. Adults average about two to four colds a year.

Women, especially between the ages of 20 to 30, have more colds than men, possibly because of their closer contact with children.

On average, people more than 60 years old have fewer than one cold a year.

Warding off a cold

"... I can't stress the importance of this enough hand washing. If you wash your hands, you're not going to give those germs a chance to get into your body."

Janet Wehrle, R.N., an infection control practitioner at Lawrence Memorial Hospital

When people talk about the common cold, what they're really referring to is a general, upper-respiratory infection that can be caused by any of about 200 viruses, says Janet Wehrle, R.N., an infection control practitioner at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Rhinoviruses the name comes from the Greek word for nose cause an estimated 30 percent to 35 percent of all adult colds.

And we all know the symptoms: runny nose, nasal congestion, muscle aches, low fever and fatigue.

While there's no cure for the common cold, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of catching one, Wehrle says.

"No. 1, and I can't stress the importance of this enough hand washing. If you wash your hands, you're not going to give those germs a chance to get into your body."

Just use plain soap and water, washing especially after using a restroom or before preparing food.

Viruses linger on surfaces for up to three hours.

If you touch a germy doorknob and then touch your eyes or mouth, a virus can enter your system.

Don't share eating utensils or cups, another way to spread viruses.

And you need to teach your children the importance of coughing and sneezing into tissues, instead of using their hands.

Forget about your mom's warning that you'll catch a cold if you go outside in cold weather, Wehrle says. Studies have shown that's just a myth.

The reason people catch colds more in the wintertime is because they're indoors more, in closer contact and breathing recirculated air.

Easing the discomfort

OK, so you've got the cold anyway. What can you do?

Skip the antibiotics. They just fight bacteria, not viruses.

"They don't cure the common cold, and they're going to probably cause more problems," says Dr. Maggie Carpenter, a family practitioner with Lawrence Family Care, 1311 Wakarusa Drive. "The two main problems are that you get side effects from the antibiotics, and ... you would have an increased resistance to the antibiotics the more they're given out (by doctors)."

What you can do is treat the symptoms you're feeling. You might want to try over-the-counter products like decongestants, cough syrups, Tylenol, ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

One note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teen-agers not be given any aspirin when they have viral illnesses.

Studies have linked the use of aspirin to the development of Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious illness in children recovering from influenza or chickenpox.

You might try sucking on some of the widely available zinc lozenges that many people swear by.

"If you don't mind the metallic aftertaste, they do work in some studies. They're not going to make you better immediately; they might shorten your cold slightly, by a day," Carpenter says.

But when it comes to a panacea for colds, doctors are still empty-handed.

"If I came up for a cure for the common cold, I'd be a millionaire," Carpenter adds.




MORE: www.cdc.gov

www.niaid.nih.gov

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