Down and out with a nasty cold and a running nose? A. Radhakrishnan gives you some simple and effective home remedies which will help you through this common illness.

Winter, it is said, can ‘leave you out in the cold’! On a cold winter’s morning, you wake up feeling ‘under the weather.’ You’re sneezing, coughing and hacking up a storm, signs that you’ll be spending your day sick and ‘groggy’.

When someone sneezes, we almost automatically say ‘God Bless You’. The belief is that when one sneezes, their heart stops. Saying this is believed to make the sneezer return to life or make their heart continue to beat!

What is common cold?
The common cold (also known as nasopharyngitis, rhinopharyngitis, acute coryza, head cold, or simply a cold) is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract that primarily affects the nose. It may occasionally lead to pneumonia, either viral or secondary bacterial. Signs and symptoms include coughing, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and fever which usually resolve in seven to ten days, with some symptoms lasting up to three weeks.

The incubation period for a common cold is usually around two days. Only after this time will symptoms start to appear. It’s hard to believe, but colds are not very contagious. The virus after landing on your body takes several hours to work its way up to your nose or eyes – the place where the virus develops. In fact, colds are at their most contagious before a sufferer shows any symptoms.

Cold-causing microbes can survive for up to two days outside of the body. Rhinoviruses (from the Greek word rhin, meaning ‘nose’) evolved from enteroviruses, which cause minor infections throughout the human body. It causes 30 to 50 percent of colds, usually live for three hours on your skin or any touchable surface, but can sometimes, survive for up to 48 hours.

The list of touchable surfaces is a lengthy one: door knobs, computer keyboards, kitchen counters, elevator buttons, light switches, shopping carts, toilet paper rolls – the things we come in contact with on a regular basis.

When someone sneezes, we almost automatically say ‘God Bless You’. The belief is that when one sneezes, their heart stops. Saying this is believed to make the sneezer return to life or make their heart continue to beat!

But it’s impossible to tell how long humans have been battling colds. They could have been infecting hominids before our species appeared. Well over 200 virus strains are implicated in the cause of the common cold.

How far do germs travel after a sneeze? Remain six feet from infected people, and move quickly when they gear up to sneeze. Humidity levels help those droplets whiz through the air quicker: the lower the humidity, the more moisture evaporates from the droplet, shrinking it in size so it can stay airborne for larger distances.

By the time you are 75, you’ve probably suffered from 200 colds and spent around two years of your life coughing and sneezing. But experts say colds among older people are likely to lessen but develop into secondary bacterial infections such as respiratory-related health problems which can become killers.

Surprisingly, common cold viruses are not easily spread through kissing. You are more likely to catch cold through snuggling up in bed for eight hours with your cold-suffering partner.

Ignore at your peril
Yes, it can be dangerous too if neglected, as Mumbai resident Chandrakant Tupe (32) found out sadly. He ignored his chronic cold for two years. The result was complete loss of hearing!

The doctors at a hospital operated and removed the diseased remains of his left ear. Though he had suffered constant headache, ear discharge, tinnitus – a constant buzzing sound in the ear as well as movement imbalance, he took medicines only for the symptoms he suffered on the day.

The infection had started in his throat and moved to his inner ear, dissolved some of the ear bone and even affected the venus-sinus cavity of the brain.

Thus, no actual cure for the common cold exists, but the symptoms can be treated. It is the most frequent infectious disease in humans with the average adult getting two to three colds a year and the average child getting between six and twelve. Cold symptoms typically last a week, but in children and older adults, and those with multiple medical issues, it may last longer.

Prevention is everything
Tips to prevent being affected are:

  • Stay warm.
  • Use face masks when out walking early on wintry mornings or walk at a later time. If asthmatic, take a course of leukotriene inhibitors as the cold air traps pollutants and keeps them close to ground.
  • Use a nasal spray, enjoy a hot cup of water, go for a flu vaccine if necessary.
  • Build immunity. Get more protein, zinc, water, silver and vitamin C. Half a teaspoon twice a day of pure organic haldi (turmeric) in milk will make our immune system sing.
  • Steer clear of infections by washing hands frequently and of course follow granny’s remedies like salt water gargles and take steam often to keep your throat and nasal passage clear.
  • Avoid spicy fried foods, chew cough lozenges, drink plenty of honey and lime juice in warm water with a pinch of pepper.
  • Rest, take plenty of fluids.
  • Hot soup is good.
  • Some even advocate having ice-cream and everything cold, but this is debatable.
  • Staying physically active through moderate exercise has a number of health benefits, including supporting our immune system to fight off germs.
  • But how about when you are already sick? Exercise can boost endorphins (our body’s natural pain killer), has an anti-inflammatory effect, and may help break up congestion. But if you have heart or lung disease or a fever, exercising while ill can exacerbate these conditions.
  • Dark chocolate contains a chemical called the obromine. It lacks the side effects of feeling sleepy or dull.
  • The pungent odour of raw onions comes from its sulphur-containing compounds, and is also believed to bestow some antibacterial properties.
  • Raw honey unfiltered, unstrained, or not heated above natural hive temperatures, does not destroy the beneficial enzymes, nutrients, and antioxidants.
  • Antibiotics are of no use against cold viruses and it is important to note that most have side effects.
  • Though over-the-counter medications are available for aches, pains, congestion, nasal discharge and postnasal drip, the key is to always discuss with your doctor or pharmacist if these medications are safe for you.
  • So when you start to get those dreaded chills, body aches, sore throat or cough – don’t let these common cold symptoms put your body, mind and soul in the doldrums…the miracle is in the house!! Get some rest, keep positive and take care of yourself by utilising these time-proven wisdoms.

  • A-Radhakrishna

    A. Radhakrishnan

    A. Radhakrishnan is a Pune-based freelance journalist, poet and short story writer, who loves to interact and make friends.