Q: How do you treat a cold?
A: With contempt.
The old doctor axiom is, sadly, still some of the best advice you're going to get. The common cold is an energy-suck, a time-suck and a suck on already diminished resources in the workplace.
What's a mother to do? Stuff it? Starve it?
We asked some local doctors for their advice. Thanks to Andrea Essenmacher, D.O., and Nathan March, D.O., both family practitioners at West Front Primary Care, for the answers.
Q: Do Airborne or Zycam work as preventives?
A: Airborne is a high dose of Vitamin C that comes in combination with a variety of other vitamins and minerals, whereas Zycam is a high dose of zinc. The theory behind both products, is that these vitamins and minerals help boost the immune system.
Most people are not getting enough of these vitamins/minerals in their diets, so it may be beneficial to take these products to help maintain a healthy immune system.
Q: How did I get this thing? I abhor germy children/am obsessive about washing my hands/have stock in Purell.
A: The common cold is spread most commonly by hand-to-hand contact or coming in contact with an object that has the virus on it. An example would be when a person with a cold opens a door. The next person that touches the doorknob now has the virus on their hands, and if they touch their mouth, nose or eyes, they are now also infected with the same virus.
Children are often blamed as a culprit because they are less careful of washing their hands, and are often touching numerous objects within reach. The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to wash hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
Q: Does the body have an endless supply of snot?
A: Mucus production is a normal part of the body's defense. Its function is to trap foreign particles entering the airway, including the cold virus. When a virus infects the body, it responds by increasing the mucus production. Immune cells are fighting off the virus within the mucus, and the body is trying to flush out the virus with the excess mucus.
As most have experienced, the body can make an awful lot of mucus when needed, which can be a nuisance but does serve a purpose.
Q: When am I contagious and for how long? (i.e., Do I really have to go to work?)
A: When infected with a cold, the virus is spreading 2-3 days prior to getting symptoms of being sick. It can persist for as long as a couple weeks. It is OK to work while contagious, as long as hands are being washed frequently; more specifically every time the nose, mouth or eyes are touched.
Q: At what point should I go to the doctor? If the cold lasts X amount of days? If my temp hits X degrees?
A: If a fever develops (generally higher than 100.1), there is any shortness of breath, shaking chills, or if symptoms persist beyond 14 days, you should see your doctor.
Q: Is each cold its own virus? If I have this one, am I now immune to it?
A: The most common virus to cause the cold is the rhinovirus, and there are hundreds of subtypes. About 80 percent of people who have been infected by one of these viruses will form antibodies that will protect them from future infections with this specific virus. That means 20 percent may still get re-infected with the same virus.
Q: Why does one side of my head get plugged up, but not the other?
A: This may be the result of anatomic or structural issues inside your nose and sinuses. We have very small passages through which the sinuses drain into the back of our noses. If the tissue surrounding these outlets is swollen or structurally obstructed (deviated septums), then one side may be more prone to "plugging."
Some people also comment that the side changes with whichever side is down while laying on their side.
Q: Stuff it? Starve it? Are there certain foods that I should eat? Stay away from?
A: I think my mother used to say "feed a fever and starve a cold" or something to the effect. The truth is when we don't feel good we usually don't get adequate nutrition or hydration.
I recommend treating fevers with Tylenol (an antipyretic) to reduce temperatures greater than 100.8. When fevers reduce, we usually feel better. Motrin for aches and pain. Make sure you consume plenty of fluids and eat as tolerated. There are no specific food groups I recommend over another. Your body needs nutrients and calories to fuel its immune system.
Q: Do hot tea, chicken soup, hot toddies help with anything? Or just make you feel better?
A: These are comfort foods that symptomatically help us feel better. I don't know of any medicinal qualities to any of these, but they will unlikely hurt. A toddy may help suppress the "cough center" in our brains to aid with sleep. However, that doesn't mean I am advocating for its use for medicinal purposes.
Q: What should I look for in a cold medicine? And those just make me feel better right? Nothing is being cured?
A: I am not a supporter of "cold medicines." They are typically loaded with several ingredients, which you may not need. I recommend individual ingredients to remedy the symptoms you're struggling with. Tylenol for fevers (greater than 100.8) and chills. Motrin for aches and pains. Claritin/Zyrtec for congestion. Mucinex/Robitussin for mucolytic effect. None of these will treat the infection, but rather lessen the symptoms as your immune system does its thing.
Q: What is the difference between a cold and the flu (influenza)?
A: Cold is a garbage can term that we throw at all mild illnesses of the upper respiratory tract. Colds are caused by a number of viruses that are usually quite contagious and quickly spread.
Influenza is an illness that is caused seasonally, late Feb through April, by a specific virus, and typically a more severe illness.
Influenza is characterized by a quick onset, fevers above 101, runny nose, headaches, cough and muscle aches. It is usually more severe than the everyday cold and results in deaths every year of young children, elderly and immuno-compromised.
There is a vaccine for influenza each fall, but none for the "cold." Please don't forget to get your influenza vaccine, which is still available and there is time to get it before "flu season" strikes.