A "cold" is a syndrome of symptoms caused by infection and resulting inflammation of parts or all of the upper airway (nasal passages, throat, larynx and upper trachea). It is also known as an upper respiratory infection (URI). Infection results from one of 200 viral strains from six virus families. These are Rhinoviruses, Coronaviruses, Para influenza viruses, Adenoviruses, Echo viruses, and Respiratory Syncytial Viruses.
Hand-to-hand contact and contact with wet fomites (mucous, saliva, or aerosolized secretions) are risk factors for spread of the virus. In college, this means shaking hands, kissing, touching doorknobs, desktops, phones, remotes, sharing drinks, catching a sneeze or cough in the face, all put you at risk. You infect yourself by touching the moist membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth. College campuses are a "hot zone" of upper respiratory viruses due to the numbers of ill students in close proximity to each other. Peak incidence of the common cold is in the late fall and winter, but colds can strike all year. Most adults will contract 2-4 colds a year.
One or more of the following symptoms may be present with a cold: Symptom (percent of time symptom may be present)
• Nasal stuffiness/congestion (80-100)
• Sneezing (50-70)
• Scratchy, swollen, or sore throat (50)
• Cough (40)
• Hoarseness (30)
• Headache (25)
• Malaise (20-25)
• Fever of more than 100° (0-1)
A word about "green and yellow" mucous ("snot"); color is not an indicator of bacteria being present in early illness. Stagnant mucous thickens and darkens overnight, or from antihistamine use, and from the arrival of white cells (infection fighters) and the chemicals released by them. Also, these colors are commonly seen in the first 1-3 days.
The diagnosis is made based on your history of symptoms and the signs of illness on physical exam. In certain cases, a throat culture for strep, a blood count, or mono test may be performed, but usually the diagnosis of cold requires no tests.
Illness is a trial and colds are a fact of college life. As a rule, you will feel poorly. Over-the-counter and prescription medications can help you feel better and return you to functioning. But no remedy or medication can "cure" you in a day or fully "prevent" you from becoming ill. Antibiotics (e.g. Z-Paks®, Augmentin®, penicillin, etc.) won't kill viruses and misuse of these drugs puts you at risk for adverse effects from them and promotes antibiotic resistant organisms, exemplified by the surge in community acquired MRSA.* Your immune system is your best ally against upper respiratory viruses.
A common misconception is that colds last "just a few days" or that you can "kick-it" in 3-5 days. In general, fever and sore throat may last up to 4 days. Nasal congestion lasts for 5-10 days. Runny nose or nasal discharge can last up to 14 days, but could clear in 7 days. Cough will usually take 14 days, but may nag you for 3-4 weeks. In the absence of serious symptoms or complications, this is called post-infectious cough and will clear.
*Refers to community acquired methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus or CA-MRSA.
The following represent a collection of home alternative, and traditional medicinal remedies and preventions of cold (and flu). Italicized names are over-the-counter (OTC) brands. Because the market is flooded with multi-symptom formulas (like Common Cold and the College Student Nyquil®), for simplicity’s sake we have mentioned only single symptom formulas for specific symptom relief. Always read the labels for directions, duplicated active ingredients, side effects, interactions, and precautions.
You should see a Health Center practitioner for a cold if any of the following conditions exists:
• Symptoms that have not shown improvement within 7 days
• A persistent, frequent cough that is continuous through the day for 7 days
• A temperature of more than 100 degrees that won’t reduce with Tylenol® , Motrin® or Advil®
• Ear pain, loss of hearing, blood or discharge from the ear
• Enlarged tonsils that inhibit swallowing, choke you, alter your voice, or are coated with white or yellow discharge
• A history of heart disease
• Chest pain, wheezing, or shortness of breath
• Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck, groin, and armpits
The following is a check list for your convenience. All of these items are not necessarily required!
• Thermometer: oral, digital-type
• Afrin® or Mucinex® Nasal Spray
• Humidifier (warm steam/mist) Tylenol® 500mg and/or Motrin® 200mg
• Vicks' Vapor Steam®
• Benadryl® or Tavist®
• Vicks' Vapor Rub® or Metholatum®
• Zicam® or Cold-Eeze®
• Cepaco/ Maximum Strength® throat lozenges
• Saline Nasal Spray
• Lysol® or Chlorox® Wipes
• Chloraseptic® Throat Spray
• Chicken soup
• Mucinex® or Robitussin®
• Tissues with aloe
• Delsym® Mucinex-DM®, or Robitussin DM®
• Purell® hand sanitizer