Almost any time during of year, especially in the colder months, a cold can creep up on you.
A virus causes the common infection of the upper respiratory system that can affect the nose, throat and ears. And while the rhinovirus is the most common cold virus, but more than 200 viruses can cause colds. There is no vaccination or shot to prevent the spread of colds.
Cold and flu season lasts from early fall to early spring but peaks during the cold, dry winter months, when people spend most of their time indoors. Cold viruses thrive in the warm, moist environment of noses and the upper respiratory tract. They can enter the nasal passages in different ways, such as in the form of airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or carried on hands and common objects such as phones and drinking glasses. Once you get the viral particles on your hands, all you need to do is touch your nose, mouth or eyes and the virus has found a new temporary home.
After you have been exposed to a cold virus, symptoms will show up in two to three days. If you have some of the following symptoms, you probably have a cold:
• Fever of 100 to 101 degrees
• Body chills
• Itchy or sore throat
• Feeling tired and lack of appetite
When you have a cold, get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat some soup. Eat plenty of healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits and grains. Avoid smoking, as cigarettes irritate airways which can lead to increased vulnerability to colds.
Over-the-counter cold medicines are available to treat symptoms. However, these are not cures and will not shorten the duration of your cold. Colds and influenza are not caused by bacteria so antibiotics will not prevent or cure them.
Be aware that the flu can lead to secondary infections such as pneumonia if you have a weakened immune system. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice a worsening cough, hardship with breathing, coughing up blood, or a persistent and recurring fever.
Ways you can defend yourself against the common cold include the following:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. This is especially important if you work with children or if you are around someone with a cold.
• Keep your hands away from your face as cold viruses most often get into your body through your mouth, nose and eyes.
• Avoid using a cold-sufferer’s phone, keyboard, pen, drinking glass or any other items where a cold virus might be.
• Disinfect often; viruses can live as long as three hours on objects.
• Help your immune system by eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep.
• Manage your stress. Stress can harm the ability of your immune system to work optimally.
• Stay home if you are sick, and keep sick children at home to prevent the spread of cold or flu.
Elaine Burn is a State College Area School District School nurse. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.