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By Hein Kaiser


‘Bless you’: The curse of seasonal colds

The common cold is here again – but watch out it isn’t a severe strain.

It’s a year-round gift that keeps on giving, but as autumn creeps in and winter follows, ’tis the traditional season to be snotty.

And the common cold is the gift that keeps giving.

The common cold is a broad term used to describe a variety of mostly viral infections that affect the upper respiratory tract, causing symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, sore throat, and congestion.

It’s pretty much an inevitability that at some point everyone will contract the virus.

Common causes of colds spreading

Dr Jonathan Redelinghuys of Medicare24 said that the most common cause of spread of the common cold is via droplet nuclei, which means that tiny droplets in our respiratory tract carry portions of the virus that can then spread between people.

While a cold is often seen as a mild inconvenience, it can cause severe complications for vulnerable populations, including those with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and infants.

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Redelinghuys notes that the common misconception is that people with cold or flu-like symptoms should take antibiotics. However, antibiotics can make the symptoms of the common cold worse.

Easing symptoms

He also said that while we all tend to run to the chemist to stock up on cold medication, there is mixed evidence regarding the use of over-the-counter treatments, but taking things like paracetamol to reduce pain and fever is a safe bet.

He added: “Many over-the-counter preparations also contain vitamin C or zinc supplements, which have mixed evidence regarding their effectiveness. Cough suppressants may help relieve irritation in the throat, but won’t reduce the cold itself.”

Instead, the best way to treat the common cold is to rely on your own immune system to recognise the virus and develop antibodies to overcome it.

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However, there are some things that can be done to ease the symptoms of the common cold, such as using honey to ease cough or nasal decongestants for those with congested sinuses.

It is important to note that these treatments are meant to ease the symptoms and not necessarily treat the cause of the cold.

A normal cold will come and go within a few days.

Difference between a cold and flu

But we all call it flu, and there is a difference between a cold and actual influenza.

And while Redelinghuys said it may be difficult to distinguish between the two, there are symptomatic differences to be on the lookout for.

The symptoms of the flu are typically more severe than those of the common cold.

Influenza often presents with constitutional symptoms, such as severe body aches and fever, as well as a runny nose and sore throat. The only way to really be sure about which viral infection you have contracted, is to have a swab done and sent away to the lab for testing.

Redelinghuys said that when it comes to flu, prevention is better than cure.

Influenza or the flu is best treated through vaccination before the fact, which can prevent the most common strains of the virus from circulating.

“There is a misconception that getting vaccinated will cause you to feel fluish or cause your immune system to react, but this is the point of the vaccine, as it creates a reaction from your immune system that can prevent infection.”

Redelinghuys warned flu-like symptoms could also indicate a more severe viral infection.

There has been a significant resurgence of respiratory syncytial virus, a pathogen that is dangerous for infants and the elderly.

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