Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Student
We’ve all had the common cold, which usually starts with sneezing and sore throat, followed by nasal congestion, runny nose, and a cough.2 It’s one of the biggest culprits causing sick days to be taken at work, absences at school, and in some cases, inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics. In today’s article, we’re going to discuss some of the common causes of the common cold and address different methods to manage the symptoms.
What Causes the Common Cold?
The common cold is usually viral in nature, typically causing the symptoms described above.1 These symptoms are often benign, meaning they often do not lead to serious harm. Usually, nasal congestion and runny nose are the first to resolve in about 7-10 days, unlike the cough which can take up to two weeks to clear up.2
What Can Help?
When you begin to experience these symptoms, it’s important to practice good hygiene. The risk of spreading the infection is greatest within the first two days.2 So, washing your hands, not sharing utensils, and coughing and/or sneezing into your elbow and not your hands are hygiene practices that would be helpful prevent the spread of the infection.
What doesn’t help though are antibiotics. As mentioned previously, the common cold is viral in nature, using antibiotics won’t help as they only work on bacterial infections. However, if you’re experiencing symptoms that are quite severe, it may be something different from the cold and it’s advised you see your physician for further assessment.
In the next few paragraphs, we’ll cover some ways to manage specific symptoms of the common cold.
Congestion and Runny Nose
One approach to dealing with congestion and a runny nose is through the use of a nasal saline rinse. Not only does it help manage symptoms, but it’s safe and effective for use in all age groups and in those with other chronic medical conditions.
Another approach to treating congestion is the use of decongestants, which can come in two different forms – an oral form or a nasal spray. The oral form is often included in combination with other medications for cold symptom management. Oral decongestant products are recommended for those over the age of 12. It’s important to talk to your pharmacist if you have any other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, as these products may increase your blood pressure.2 Individuals who are taking high blood pressure medications are encouraged to use a nasal decongestant spray rather than an oral decongestant. With regards to nasal decongestant sprays, it’s recommended that individuals avoid using it for more than 3-5 days to prevent rebound congestion. This is when your body ends up with worsened congestion upon stopping use of the nasal decongestant because it gets used to the medication.
Sore Throat and Cough
Currently, there is not much evidence to support the use of cough suppressants, commonly known as dextromethorphan or “DM”.2 Symptomatic management of sore throats include lozenges, or using Tylenol® or Advil®.
The Bottom Line
The common cold is something we all experience at least at one point or another during the year. While it comes with an array of unpleasant symptoms, there are ways to mitigate the discomfort. Remember, it’s important to get adequate rest and ensure proper diet and fluid intake as well as carry out good hygiene practices such as washing your hands, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth after touching surfaces. With regards to symptom management, you can always talk to your pharmacist, physician or other local healthcare professionals for ensure you are treated safety and appropriately!
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