The common cold, also known as viral rhinosinusitis, is typically caused by a pathogen of viral origin that finds a favorable environmental situation for its proliferation in the nose and sinuses, swelling and causing disruption of the nasal mucosa. There are numerous viruses that cause this disorder, including Rhinovirus, Coronavirus and various influenza viruses. Scientists have discovered more than 200 of them and it is considered one of the most common disorders worldwide. Cold weather promotes its survival.
The spread of cold viruses is also related to high contagiousness and epidemic spikes. In fact, transmission from one individual to another is simple and can occur either directly or indirectly. Sneezing, coughing, mucus, and saliva droplets (Droplets) allow easy passage of viruses from one organism to another. Even a simple talk can be the cause of a direct cold virus infection. In addition, these are viruses that can resist even up to about 3 hours in the outdoor environment, such as on hands or objects. To avoid indirect infection, thorough hand hygiene after being in contact with infected people or objects is a good idea. The peak of contagiousness occurs in the first 2-3 days of illness, while at the end of the illness the risk of infection is lower.
Why do we get colds? Risk factors
Among the major empirically recognized risk factors are temperature changes, cold weather, and artificial heating. Cold per se is not bad for health but has an inhibitory effect on the natural self-cleansing system of the nasal cavities, the hair cells, which normally vibrate pushing mucus and trapped pathogens outward. In addition, the dry air of heated environments dries out the mucous membranes, impairing their ability to produce mucus, and dries out the mucus layer that normally lines our airways. The transition from heated environments to the cold outside also (the typical cold snap) can further decrease the efficiency of the mucous membranes. Because of this, pathogens, which would normally be prevented from entering, are able to penetrate deep into the respiratory tract and can cause even serious damage.
Cold viruses cause numerous complaints, such as nasal obstruction, mucus production, and destruction of the cilia and ciliated cells that line the nasal epithelium, also facilitating bacterial overinfection. Typically, cold symptoms begin to occur 1 to 3 days after viral infection, peaking between days 2 and 3. They begin to subside after a week. However, it is important to remember that you can be contagious even before you start feeling sick and for some time after you are cured. Common symptoms include:
- stuffy nose
- rhinorrhea (runny nose)
- production of increased amounts of mucus
- irritated mucosa, feeling dry or congested
- sore throat
- colds rarely involve excessive increases in body temperature (over 38°C), in which cases it is logical to suspect a flu-like form.
Cold and allergic rhinitis should not be confused. Colds have a viral origin, and contagion is epidemic, usually related to the cold season. With the arrival of the warmer season, the occurrence of cold-like nasal congestion is not unusual, however, the causes are different and should be identified in respiratory allergies, “foreign” substances that inhaled cause the body to react. The way to recognize seasonal colds from allergic colds is based on the subtle distinction of symptoms. Allergic-type colds have an abrupt onset, absence of fever, less pronounced nasal congestion and reduced mucus secretion than those of viral origin, dry throat and lacrimation often accompanied by reddened eyes. Symptoms are thus likened to a flu-like illness and can be relieved with the use of corticosteroids and antihistamines.
A cold is a viral infection and is therefore caused solely and exclusively by exposure to the virus. There is no specific cure for rhinovirus infection; currently available antiviral drugs are not effective against viruses that attack the nose and sinuses. There are remedies that can be used to relieve the symptoms and speed recovery. Medications that are often used to relieve symptoms include Inhaled Decongestants, Nasal Sprays, which relieve the feeling of nasal congestion. The problem is that by using inhaled substances for more than 3 to 5 days, then discontinuing them, congestion may occur even in worse forms than the initial ones, the so-called “rebound effect.” The same principle applies to antihistamines, which reduce the antibody response. In any case, neither decongestants nor antihistamines should be given before age 12. NSAIDs such as aspirin and Ibuprofen can relieve pain, but it is only symptom reduction.
People with a cold should stay warm, rest and try to avoid transmission of the infection to others by staying indoors. Traditionally, the consumption of fluids and the practice of nasal washes, are referred to as methods that help thin secretions and facilitate their expulsion, speeding healing. Nasal washes consist of spraying a sterile saline solution into the nasal cavity, which makes a complete tour of the nose, entering one nostril to drain out the other. On days of increased nasal congestion, it may be useful to perform washes with a hypertonic saline solution, that is, with a higher concentration of sodium chloride than is normally present in the body, which is 0.9 percent, allowing for a more rapid decongestant action. In the long term, on the other hand, an isotonic solution, i.e., with a concentration of salts equal to that of the body, is recommended, which instead serves a mechanical purpose and allows for thorough cleansing of the nasal passages. Washings should be repeated 2-3 times a day. The goal is to clean and purify the nasal passages to rid them of secretions, restore normal airflow, and ensure proper air filtration and humidification by the nasal cavities. Nasal hygiene brings numerous benefits, either alone or in combination with drug therapies as an adjuvant treatment.
Normally antibiotics should not be used to treat a common cold. They do not help and may even prove harmful. Be careful, however, not to overlook a particularly persistent cold, as it can result in sinusitis, an inflammation that especially affects people with breathing difficulties. Sinusitis needs proper treatment set by the specialist, so it is good to know its early symptoms such as thick, abundant and yellowish-green mucus, retronasal discharge, a wheezing cough, headache and heaviness of the face, and difficulty in perceiving smells. Otitis is also a rather annoying disorder that can arise as a result of inadequately treated or neglected nasal problems (colds, sinusitis, allergic and non-allergic rhinitis). If the situation does not improve within a few days, a specialist visit is recommended for appropriate treatment so as to prevent the proliferation of pathogenic microorganisms in the nasal cavity.
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