It may be 'just a virus', but the average cold can sometimes develop into more serious infections. Now the school holidays are over and most of us are back to work, you may be busier than ever. What's more, if you have young kids, they're highly likely to be bringing germs back from the playground with them. But if you want to maximise your chances of being in good health, make sure you find time to look after yourself. There's good evidence that people who exercise regularly, and have a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, are less likely to catch colds. Getting enough sleep helps, too.
There's much debate over whether (and if so, when) vitamins and supplements help ward off or relieve the symptoms of colds. Some people swear by high-dose vitamin C, but evidence is shaky. Others take echinacea either throughout the winter or when they have a cold. Some of the best evidence seems to be for Kaloba®, a herbal extract from a South African geranium, available from your pharmacist.
Inflammation of the sinuses in the front of your skull can cause head pain (often worse when you bend forward), a nasty tasting fluid dripping down the back of your throat and fever. Most cases are caused by viral infections, so antibiotics don't help. However, regular painkillers, warm (rather than hot) packs over your sinuses and possibly a decongestant nasal spray or tablets from your pharmacist can relieve the symptoms.
Don't overdo the sauce!
As well as disrupting your sleep and leaving you tired and headachy, drinking too much alcohol can affect your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infections. Remember, it's a little of what you fancy that does you good, not a whole bottle!
When should I worry?
People with chronic lung conditions like COPD or asthma are at higher risk of complications from colds. But healthy people can get 'lower respiratory tract infections' like bronchitis or pneumonia too, and these need checking out urgently. Warning symptoms to look out for include:
- Sharp chest pain when you breathe (rather than when you cough or sneeze)
- Significant shortness of breath or wheezing
- Coughing up blood or rust-coloured sputum.
Blocked and painful ears
When your airways are full of gunk from a cold, your Eustachian tube can get blocked. This tiny tube connects your middle ear with your throat, letting you equalise the pressure inside and outside the ear. Blockage can reduce hearing and cause pain - exactly as when you're in an aircraft changing height fast. Speak to your pharmacist about decongestants which can help (don't use them for more than a week). Discharge from the ear or severe pain which doesn't settle should be checked out
Sore throats - what helps?
It's common - in fact usual - to have a sore throat when you have a cough and cold. Even losing your voice doesn't mean there's a bacterial infection. Most cases of 'laryngitis' settle without treatment and without any long-term complications. But the fact that we can't cure these infections doesn't mean you have to live with them. Soothing honey and lemon drinks or pastilles will help. So too can pain-relieving throat sprays (speak to your pharmacist). Some doctors recommend gargling with soluble paracetamol, then swallowing the liquid. It's not clear whether gargling really coats the inside of the throat and speeds up pain relief, but the paracetamol certainly works. That's more than can be said for the popular remedy of salt water gargles - don't bother!
Children in particular can be prone to tonsillitis or bacterial infection of the throat - warning symptoms include high fever, sore throat without a cough, painful glands on the front of the neck and white spots on the back of your throat if you look into your mouth with a torch. If you have three or more of these (two in children), you may need antibiotics.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.