The Northeast’s spring-like honeymoon of December has quickly morphed into wintry January, with temps expected to be a bone-chilling 14 degrees tonight and a high tomorrow of only 31. And that, of course, means closed windows, close quarters with school mates and colleagues, and, unfortunately, an uptick in the incidence of the common cold, aka an upper respiratory infection. Oh yes!
In fact, URIs are so contagious that more than 62 million of us will likely “catch” one or more this year. Considered the most common infectious disease in the U.S., they account for some 22 million missed days of school and about 20 million missed work days every year
And, unfortunately, even this early into the season, runny noses and scratchy throats abound, often along with some of these symptoms, as well:
- Mild body aches
- Watery eyes
- A low-grade fever—NOT a high one
Then, adding insult to injury, as a cold runs its course, the mucus can thicken and turn yellowy or greenish in color.
Despite feeling miserable, though, a run-of-the-mill cold doesn’t warrant a doctor visit or an antibiotic, either. URIs are viral, not bacterial, in nature, with more than 100 cold-causing viruses out there. They typically hang on for about a week or so and is why Jerome Sag, M.D. tells his patients, “If I give you an antibiotic, your cold will clear up in a few more days; if I don’t give you an antibiotic, your cold will clear up in a few more days.”
In other words, there ain’’t no cure for the common cold, and most adults can expect to get two to five of them a year. Make it six to ten, even twelve, for kids, thanks to school, pre-school, and day-care.
Meanwhile, only contact your physician if you have:
- Trouble breathing or experience chest pain.
- A fever of 100.5 or above that won’t go away.
- Non-stop vomiting.
- A really severe sore throat.
- A cough that lasts 2 to 3 weeks.
- Congestion and a headache that hang on.
Do so, too, if your sick child:
- Is younger than 3 months old
- Gets a fever several days after the start of a cold
- Has a fever that lasts more than 5 days
- Has a runny nose that lasts more than 10 days
- Exhibits a yellow discharge in his/her eyes
- Cannot drink enough fluid because their nose is too stuffy
- Has chest pain
- Has ear pain or fluid draining from the ear
- Has a very sore throat
However, head to your local emergency department or call 911 if your child:
- Seems lethargic (very sleepy) or irritable (cranky)
- Is having trouble breathing
- Has lips that look blue
- Has a painful or stiff neck or a severe headache
In the meantime, here are some steps to help avoid getting sick:
- Get plenty of rest, eat well, and take a probiotic, too. According to Progressive Health, “The evidence is rather strong that probiotics reduce both the duration and severity of colds and the flu.
- 500 mg. of vitamin C every day for at least 3 months; LabDoor.com found that it can shorten the length of future colds by one day and even their severity.
- Wash your hands really well, singing “Happy Birthday” as you suds up and rinse; the same goes for kids.Keep bathroom and kitchen countertops clean, being even more diligent when a family member is sick.
- Use tissues instead of handkerchiefs and never touch used ones.
- Remind everyone to cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbows instead of their hands.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, as that’s how germs gain entry.
- Never share drinking cups or utensils with anyone, including family members.
- Avoid close contact with anyone showing signs of a cold.
But when it’s too late, and those unmistakable tell-tale signs come knocking anyway, consider choosing from among:
- Zinc within the first 24 hours that symptoms appear; it’s found to help shorten duration by about one day.
- Such pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin (Bayer) in moderation only. NEVER give aspirin to children or teens with a cold, flu, or chickenpox, as it’s been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition that attacks the kidneys, brain, and liver.
- Echinacea, which reportedly can reduce a cold’s symptoms or duration.
- 500 mg. of vitamin C every day, as it might cut down on the cold’s severity.
- Decongestants to make it easier to breathe, but use cautiously, carefully following use directions.
- Cough suppressants, but only for a dry cough (no mucus) and never for children under 4.
- Expectorants to thin mucus, making coughing it out easier.
- Antihistamines to help with that runny nose and watering eyes.
- Nose sprays to loosen mucus up, particularly saline nose sprays which can be used freely.
At the same time:
- Drink lots of water, juice, broth, or warm lemon water.
- Enjoy some chicken soup, which actually acts as an anti-inflammatory and gets the mucus moving through the nose.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Stay in a warm room—but not too warm.
- Plug in a humidifier if the air is dry.
- Gargle with salt water to ease a sore throat.
And finally, don’t share. Stay home from work or keep your child from school when feeling the lousiest, as that’s the most contagious period.