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Dr Sam, I have a cold

“Dr Sam,  I have a runny nose, I swear I’m going to die!”

It’s that time of year where my waiting room bursts with the dreary eyed fluey folk, the chorus of sniffles and coughs resonnating down the corridor.  It doesn’t have to be like that, because there really is a lot you can do before you even make it to see me.

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory passages, especially the nose and throat, with about 7452 different viruses causing it.  Aussie vernacular incorporates the word “flu” for the common cold, but really that’s a misnomer.  Influenza is caused by the influenza virus and results in a far more intense and longer lasting upper respiratory tract infection.

Back to the common cold.  So how do you know if you’ve got one?

When struck down with a cold, people complain of the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Body aches and pains
  • Feelings of tiredness and low energy
  • Other symptoms include head aches, sore eyes, sneezing, hoarseness, and feeling like you could spew.

These symptoms generally peak on the second day and last for four to five days in total.

So what can you actually do about it.

There is no treatment or cure for the common cold – you need to wait for your body to fight it off.  Antibiotics are of no use for viral infections and are only useful for certain complications.

This takes at least four days, but colds can last up to ten.  And this is where we get a bit frustrated with patients coming to see us on day two- you all want those bloody antibiotics, but they are useless!!!

Stay at home people and wait for your body to do its job.  There’s no need to see your doctor until day five (plus), and even then, it should be when you’re getting WORSE or have real fevers (above 38.5).

“So what CAN I do Dr Sam?”

Its all about making you feel more comfortable and promoting your immune system to fight the virus as quickly as possible.

  • Rest. Physical activity puts extra demands on the immune system. Rest for goodness sake! Take a day off, don’t go to the gym, sit on the couch. Allow your body to put 100% of its energy into fighting the cold! (no, ten beers is not rest…).
  • Pain killers such as paracetamol and aspirin have several useful effects: they control fever and reduce any aches and pains you have.
  • For the blocked nose try snorting salty water. (You can get sprays from the chemist). Some people like decongestant tablets to dry up secretions.
  • Cough is the bodies way of clearing out the extra snot. Some people like cough mixtures, some find them a waste of time. See how you go.
  • Gargling aspirin in water, lemon juice, or an iodine solution can soothe a sore throat.
  • Large doses of vitamin C are loosely associated with lifting your immune system. An average dose is 1–2 grams a day.

 How do we stop ourselves from getting a cold?

If you have a cold, you must have breathed someone else’s virus. Tiny spit particles spread out after your snotty nosed mate coughed or sneezed. We inhale them, they take hold, and a couple of days later you’re in the same boat. You should also remember that the same particles can be spread through touch: old matey sneezes, then wipes his snotty hand on your phone, you use it, and then two days later…

Lastly, have a think about why you might be getting several colds this winter. Are you keeping yourself healthy? To keep your immune system in tiptop shape you need regular exercise, a balanced diet and adequate sleep.

Oh, and Ladies, if you’re struggling to shake your cold, new handbags definitely help – share if you agree 🙂 .

Dr Sam.