With the arrival of the colder weather, you will no doubt see a surge in the number of patients seeking relief from symptoms caused by the common cold. Although many members of the public may be able to identify a cold, misconceptions may lead to inappropriate self-diagnosis and treatment. This makes it important to better educate patients about the common cold and ensure they have the facts.
MYTH: Cold temperature causes a cold
While the colder temperature in winter cannot cause a cold – the common cold is caused by a virus – seasonal changes in relative humidity may affect the prevalence of colds. This is because the most common cold-causing viruses survive better when humidity is low. Cold weather also makes the inside lining of the nose drier and more vulnerable to viral infections. Similarly, walking outdoors barefoot, going to sleep with wet hair, or not wearing warm clothes outdoors cannot cause the common cold. Another reason patients are more likely to catch a cold during winter is that they spend more time indoors in close proximity to each other. This close contact makes it easier for viruses to spread.
MYTH: You can become immune to colds
There are around more than 200 different strains of the virus that causes the common cold and lead to an infection of the respiratory tract,” said LloydsPharmacy Pharmacist, Pareena Patel. “Rhinoviruses are the most common cause of colds. This virus can infect you at any time in the year, but it’s more likely to be in the winter. On average, an adult gets around 2-3 colds a year, but children get many more as their immune systems are weaker and it has been reported that they can get up to 10 colds a year.”
MYTH: Feed a cold, starve a fever
When a patient has a cold, they often don’t feel like eating anything. “This is the result of chemicals released by the body to fight off infection which in turn affects the brain,” explained Dr Merlin Thomas (Adjunct Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute). “These same chemicals can make a patient feel irritable, lethargic, or just plain miserable.” Stressing the importance for patients to stay hydrated when they have a cold, the ACG Health & Wellness Centre warned that starving a fever by not drinking enough fluids could do more damage. “Eat enough to satisfy your appetite, and make sure to drink plenty of fluids.”
MYTH: Antibiotics will cure a cold
Antibiotics are only suitable for bacterial infections. Because the common cold is caused by a virus, not bacteria, antibiotics are an ineffective treatment option. Furthermore, misusing antibiotics to treat viral infections may do more harm than good as they can contribute to antibiotic resistance. That said, in some cases, a secondary bacterial infection (e.g. sinus infection, ear infection, and pneumonia) may develop during or following a cold. In these instances, antibiotics may be appropriate.
MYTH: Only people with weakened immune systems can catch a cold
“Because the common cold is a viral illness, anyone is susceptible if they come into contact with the virus, although those with a weakened immune system can be more susceptible. While coughing and sneezing may spread viral particles, the primary source of transmission of the common cold virus is the hands. That’s what makes frequent hand washing with soap and water the most effective method of limiting infection of others.