You wake up and your eyes are just a little too watery. There’s the hint of an itch in the back of your throat, and you feel a sneeze coming on. Your child enters the room and crawls into bed with you because a persistent cough has kept him up all night. Your partner walks into the living room, still in pajamas, with a runny nose, a box of tissues, and a thermometer.
Well, it’s abundantly clear that your house has fallen victim to a cold bug. But, fear not! Some well-informed self-care is all you need to get your body all of the support it needs to weather this storm as quickly and effectively as possible.
First, let’s talk about where colds come from, how you get them, and most importantly, how you can prepare ahead of time so that you know exactly what to do when a cold comes a-knockin’ on your door.
What are the typical symptoms of a cold?
If you’re feeling under the weather, there are a few telltale signs that those aches and pains are likely the result of a cold virus. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 2-3 days post-exposure to a cold virus, you can expect one or more of the following symptoms:
What Causes Colds?
Colds can strike at any time, not just during cold and flu season. There are 3 primary types of viruses classified as colds, and they all have their own unique personalities.
Rarely too serious, the rhinovirus accounts for anywhere from 10-40% of “common” colds. It’s unusual during the winter months and is most active from spring, through summer, and into early fall.
The last year and a half has given the world a crash course in how coronaviruses work. Coronavirus varieties number into the hundreds, but the vast majority of these don’t affect humans. The 3 known human-affecting coronaviruses were attributed to around 20% of colds emerging from winter and into spring. That is until the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 arrived on the scene.
“There are hundreds of coronaviruses, most of which circulate among such animals as pigs, camels, bats and cats. Sometimes those viruses jump to humans—called a spillover event—and can cause disease. Four of the seven known coronaviruses that sicken people cause only mild to moderate disease. Three can cause more serious, even fatal, disease. SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) emerged in November 2002 and caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). That virus disappeared by 2004. Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is caused by the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Transmitted from an animal reservoir in camels, MERS was identified in September 2012 and continues to cause sporadic and localized outbreaks. The third novel coronavirus to emerge in this century is called SARS-CoV-2. It causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which emerged from China in December 2019 and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.” -National Institute of Health and Infectious Diseases
- RSV and parainfluenza:
These viruses are generally pretty easy for adults to weather, but they’re something to pay attention to closely if children or older adults (65+) are infected. RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus, can get particularly severe in young children under 12 months of age and can progress into pneumonia. RSV is the most common culprit for pneumonia and bronchitis.
"RSV is typically a seasonal respiratory virus that arrives in the US in the fall, spreads through the community, and disappears in the spring. This virus tends to last longer, and cause more lower respiratory inflammation than your common cold, especially in children less than a year old. For kids under 5, this virus leads to millions of doctor visits and over 50,000 hospitalizations each year. Typically, there are more than 3 times the hospitalizations for the elderly (65+). Help prevent getting and spreading the virus by washing hands frequently and covering your cough."
-Dr. Jisue Coye
If your child shows any of the following signs, they could be suffering from RSV and medical attention is recommended:
- Short, shallow, and rapid breathing
- Struggling to breathe — chest muscles and skin pull inward with each breath
- Poor feeding
- Unusual tiredness (lethargy)
When to Seek Medical Care
The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing or fast breathing
- Fever that lasts longer than 4 days
- Symptoms that last more than 10 days without improvement
- Symptoms, such as fever or cough, that improve but then return or worsen
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
Busting a Common Myth about Colds
How do we get colds in the first place? Well, contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that you can get a cold from being out in the cold. The groups of viruses that cause colds are just that...viruses. A virus consists of a collection of proteins that depend on a host in order to "live". They then spread from person to person.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t bundle up in the winter, but unless that cold virus is being carried through the air and into your body, then the “cold” isn’t going to give you an actual cold. Part of the reason we tend to see more cases of cold viruses during the winter months is because people spend more time indoors, where airborne viruses can linger in an enclosed environment. Additionally, people's Vitamin D levels drop which is associated with increased respiratory viruses. Changes in circadian rhythms due to shorter days also induce changes in the immune system, making us further susceptible.
“Winter immune health starts in the months leading up to those chilly months. Eating nutrient-dense foods high in antioxidants, routine exercise, mindfulness/stress management, getting proper sleep and increasing our Vitamin D levels can help protect the body from respiratory viruses. Proper hand hygiene is very important for preventing the spread of viral particles."
-Dr. Richard Harris
Proactive Cold Prevention is Your Best Defense
With your impressive new wealth of knowledge about the viruses that cause colds, let’s talk about prevention. Being stuck in bed for a week feeling miserable is no one’s idea of a good time, so how do you protect yourself from exposure in the first place?
Practice Good Hygiene
One of the best ways to prevent the spread of viruses is to focus on consistent personal hygiene. You can reduce your risk by washing your hands, especially before touching your eyes, nose, or face. Use soap and hot water, and now that antibacterial hand sanitizer has become a public bathroom mainstay, use it! An alcohol-based solution that’s at least 60% alcohol is most effective.
If you hear someone sniffling and sneezing in your office or at the supermarket, respectively keep your distance. And if you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, be a good human and keep your distance from others. Cough and sneeze into a tissue, or better yet, stay home and have a friend or family member do your shopping for you. If you have symptoms, use those sick days or arrange to work from home.
Stock Your Medicine Cabinet
It’s never too early to prepare for a cold. Have supplies on hand year-round so you don’t have to run out and get them at the last minute.
Medicine Cabinet Essentials:
- Fluent Daytime Severe Cold & Flu Relief
- A quick and effective relief remedy to combat the worst side effects of a cold like a runny nose, fever, congestion, coughing, sore throat, headaches, and body aches
- Fluent Nighttime Severe Cold & Flu Relief
- Works while you sleep to fight cold symptoms and helps you get a restful night’s sleep
- Cough Drops
- Menthol lozenges to soothe a sore throat and calm down a cough. Choose from either Cherry or Honey-Lemon flavors. Safe for ages 5 and up.
- Children’s Ibuprofen
- Quick and effective relief for pain, fever, cough, and body aches. Comes in a Berry flavored formula.
- Children’s Acetaminophen
- Gentle Cherry-flavored relief for fever, pain, body aches, headaches, and sore throat.
You’ve got cold symptoms, now what?
As hard as we try, sometimes exposure is unavoidable. Being prepared if and when a cold strikes will save you a lot of time and trouble when it does. Thankfully, there are easy ways to prevent and prepare for the occasion. Here’s how you can proactively manage your symptoms and feel better faster.
What To Do if You Have a Cold
When your body is in recovery mode, you’ll want to preserve all of your available energy for the fight going on in your immune system. You’ll feel more tired than usual, which is your body’s way of telling you to take it easy. Sleep in. Sleep well. Sleep as much as your body wants you to.
Once you’ve recovered, make sure you practice good sleep habits going forward. Studies have shown that those who get less than 7 hours of sleep daily are up to 3 times more susceptible to catching a cold virus.
This is great advice for your general health, but it’s especially important when you’re sick. When your body is well-hydrated your kidneys can do their job balancing electrolytes. This process filters waste, helping your body flush out what’s not serving it. Additionally, both the cold and the flu cause fluid loss. So replenishing with lots of water or hot herbal tea will help your body do its job.
Good nutrition is another piece of all-around good advice for general health and well-being. Get lots of dark, leafy greens into your system, and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Go easy on animal products, sweets, and processed foods.
“Many of us lose our appetites when we are feeling under the weather. However, it is important to continue giving our bodies (and immune systems) the tools to fight off the viruses. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, juice, broths, and soup. Kids might be more motivated to hydrate with popsicles and flavored electrolyte drinks. And even though we may not feel like eating, having small amounts of proteins (chicken, tofu, yogurt), simple starches (rice, crackers, dry cereal), and fruits (high in Vitamin C), will help provide fuel for our bodies to heal."
- Dr. Jisue Coye
In a study published in 2018, four immunity-boosting supplements were shown to help sufferers of the common cold by shortening the duration of illness and lessening the severity. They include vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea.
“Vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and Echinacea have pivotal roles of three main immunoreactive clusters (physical barriers, innate and adaptive immunity) in terms of prevention and treatment (shortening the duration and/or lessening the severity of symptoms) of common colds. The present narrative review demonstrated that current evidence of efficacy for zinc, vitamins D and C, and Echinacea is quite strong that CC patients may be encouraged to try them for preventing/treating their colds.”
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Maintaining a Strong Immune System
Staying healthy, both physically and emotionally, is your best defense when a cold comes calling. Eat with nutrition at the forefront of your mind. Learn to love your greens and get creative in the kitchen to cook healthy meals for yourself and your family. Invest in immunity-boosting vitamins and supplements and get in a daily habit of taking them. Drink lots of water and herbal tea to keep your body hydrated. Together, you’re giving your body its best defense to ward off the bad guys. A proactive mentality and a healthy lifestyle are ultimately the keys to well-being, body and mind.