How many times have you been told, "Everybody seems to be getting it!"? Well, how can it be that every time you get a cold everyone around you has one as well? Perhaps some of the universality and popularity of "the common cold" can be traced to the fact that it can actually be caused by any one of more than 200 viruses. When the infection occurs, the walls of the respiratory tract swell and produce excess mucus, giving rise to the typical cold symptoms of stuffy or runny nose, throat discomfort, malaise, and occasional coughing. Colds can produce fevers in infants and children, but such fevers in adults generally indicate that the infection is probably a flu. Most colds run their course in three to ten days, but infants and the elderly are susceptible to further complications such as sinusitis, ear inflammations, and pneumonia.
Because of the number of viruses involved, people do not develop immunity to colds as they do to many other viral diseases.
How Do We Get a Cold?
All cold viruses are spread by direct contact or by airborne particles. They can become seasonally epidemic. For example, it is more likely to contact a rhinovirus in spring, summer, and fall, and parainfluenza and respiratory viruses in late fall and winter.
Like all illnesses, psychological stress must be considered when talking about the common cold. In a study written up in the New England Journal of Medicine, 394 healthy subjects were given nasal drops containing any one of five respiratory viruses and an additional 26 individuals who were given saline nasal drops. Prior to this, the patients filled out questionnaires regarding psychological stress. It was found that the rate of respiratory infections and clinical colds increased in direct proportion to the increase in the degree of psychological stress. Infection rates ranged between 74-90% according to levels of psychological stress.(2)
How Do We Treat a Cold?
The treatment that most American physicians prescribe for a cold includes rest, fluids, antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines as needed. Aspirin is generally not recommended because it actually increases viral shedding and makes the individual more contagious. Vaccines are inconsistent in terms of prevention because so many different viruses are responsible for the common cold.
An interesting study which examined this common protocol was done on a group of 96 children ages 6 months to 5 years. Each child was given either Dimetapp, an antihistamine/decongestant, a placebo, or no treatment at all. Two days after the initial assessment, there was no statistical advantage in any of the three groups.
Fortunately, there is an entire arsenal in the form of natural medicine to help treat the common cold.
- Vitamin C has many uses, but most importantly is its ability to treat infections. Ascorbic acid seems to increase the production of lymphocytes (white blood cells important in antibody production) and in coordinating the cellular immune functions. It has also been demonstrated that higher amounts of Vitamin C may actually increase interferon production and thus activate the immune response to viruses. Vitamin C also supports the hormonal system. It assists the adrenal gland in its production of the hormones epinephrine and norephinephrine which help the body deal with cold and flu infections. And it also helps to stimulate the thyroid hormone T4. Many people report increased energy when taking large amounts of Vitamin C, and perhaps this is due to hormonal influence.