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Common Cold

The common cold is an acute, usually afebrile, viral infection that causes inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. It's the most common infectious disease and is more prevalent in children, adolescent boys, and women. In temperate climates, it occurs more often in the colder months; in the tropics, during the rainy season.

Colds usually are benign and self-limiting, but they cause more lost time from school or work than any other illness. Morbidity from acute respiratory illness accounts for 30% to 50% of time lost from work by adults and 60% to 80% of time lost from school by children.

Causes

A common cold results from exposure to the virus. Its intensity, however, depends upon the state of health of the person and environmental factors.

Low vitality, exposure to cold, lack of sleep, mental depression, fatigue, and factors such as sudden changes in temperature, dust, and other irritating inhalations are important contributory causes.

Symptoms and Signs

The first symptoms of a cold are often a tickle in the throat, a runny or stuffy nose, and sneezing. Kids with colds may also have a sore throat such as incluses:

  • cough
  • headache
  • mild fever
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • loss of appetite.

The discharge from your child's nose may change from watery to thick yellow or green.

Diagnostic tests

No explicit diagnostic test exists to isolate the specific organism responsible for the common cold. Despite infection, white blood cell count and differential are within normal limits. Diagnosis must rule out allergic rhinitis, measles, rubella, and other disorders that produce similar early symptoms.

A temperature higher than 100° F (37.8° C), severe malaise, anorexia, tachycardia, exudate on the tonsils or throat, petechiae, and tender lymph glands may point to a more serious disorder and require additional diagnostic tests.

Treatment

Because the common cold has no cure, the primary treatment - aspirin or acetaminophen, fluids, and rest - is purely symptomatic. Aspirin and acetaminophen ease myalgia and headache; fluids help loosen accumulated respiratory secretions and maintain hydration; and rest combats fatigue and weakness. Because aspirin has been associated with Reye's syndrome in children, acetaminophen is the drug of choice for a child with a cold and fever.

Decongestants can relieve nasal congestion. Throat lozenges relieve soreness, and steam encourages expectoration. Nasal douching, sinus drainage, and antibiotics are necessary except in complications or chronic illness. Pure antitussives relieve severe coughs but are contraindicated with productive coughs when cough suppression is harmful. The role of vitamin C remains controversial. In infants, saline nose drops and mucus aspiration with a bulb syringe may be beneficial.

No preventive measures currently are available. Vitamin therapy, interferon administration, and experimental vaccines are under investigation.

Prevention
  • Try to steer clear of anyone who smokes or who has a cold. Virus particles can travel up to 12 feet through the air when someone with a cold coughs or sneezes, and even second hand smoke can make your child more likely to get sick.
  • Wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after blowing their noses.
  • Cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing.
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