Human rhinovirus, otherwise known as the common cold, was first discovered in the 1950s when scientists were trying to understand more about the inner workings of the virus. After all of this time, we still do not have a cure for this pretty common ailment.
Both antiviral agents and vaccinations have been attempted, but all have been unsuccessful. What makes treatment development so difficult? There are more than 200 viruses known that cause the symptoms of the common cold. Human rhinovirus just happens to be the most common culprit for causing the common cold. With winter just around the corner, it may be helpful to understand how the common cold develops, how you can prevent from spreading it, and some good old fashioned home remedies that will ease your symptoms.
How Does the Common Cold Start?
How exactly do you spread the virus? First, you have to come into contact with another infected person. It is spread either through direct contact or by touching a surface that has been contaminated and then touching your nose or mouth right afterward. The cold may also be spread through large mucus particles that are expelled from the body through close range coughs and sneezes. Interestingly enough, contamination of the eye can cause an infection in the nose because tears from the eye drain through a duct that leads right into the nasal cavity.
Once inside the body, the virus then attaches itself to the lining of your nose or throat, wherever it happened to enter the body. In reaction to this, the body’s immune system sends out white blood cells to combat the virus. Unless you have been infected with this strain before (remember there are around 200 different viral strains that cause the common cold), the initial attack by your immune system will fail; this is what causes the inflammation of your throat and nose and why your body starts to produce all of that nasty mucus. Because your body is spending so much energy trying to fight off the infection, sufferers are often left feeling tired and weak.
What makes it more likely that someone will catch a cold? Contrary to popular belief, you do not catch a cold from being wet or cold outside. Usually, if you are feeling stressed and overly tired or if you are someone with regular allergies, it is more likely that the virus will affect you.
The most common symptoms experienced include a scratchy or sore throat (usually the first sign of infection), sneezing, watery eyes, stuffy nose and mucus draining from the nose into the throat. This nasal congestion is caused by the inflammation of large veins in the lining of the nose. Headaches and decreased appetite may also be present.
Coughing is developed later in the disease and is caused by inflammation of the larynx, trachea and lower airways. The cough can either produce mucus or not. More severe symptoms would include a high fever (typically found in infants and the elderly) and muscle aches, which may be a sign of the flu instead of a cold if other symptoms are not present.
Though we have touched on some individuals who are more likely to come down with the common cold, there is one more group of important note here: kids. Children will typically have around five colds a year. Why is the number so high? Because they spend so much of their time around other people and generally are in very close contact with those people, especially in a daycare setting.
Also, children usually do not practice good hygiene like their adult counterparts. Another reason why children are affected so often is that they have not had the time to develop immunities to all of the different types of the virus like adults have had time to do.
In the United States, the cold season tends to start between August and September and can last until March or April. This time-frame may be because schools typically open around this time. Cold weather may also play a role here; when the temperature drops, people tend to spend more time indoors in closer contact with other individuals who may be contagious.
Another factor may be the change in humidity; most of the cold viruses survive better outside of the body. Also, cold weather tends to dry out the linings of the nose and throat, which makes you more vulnerable to infection. An interesting fact is that ultraviolet light is more scarce in the winter months; this type of light is known to kill viruses.
The incubation period for this illness is two days before symptoms merge. Typically, the cold will last between 7 and 10 days, with the cold symptoms lasting anywhere from one to four days, but nasal congestion lasts the entire duration of the illness.
If symptoms persist longer than this, it may be wise to make an appointment with your physician. The cold can lead to bacterial infections of the lungs, sinuses, or ears. Your physician will need to prescribe an antibiotic for this secondary infection, though it would be of no help to the original infection.
Knowing that the cold is so common, why not try to prevent it? The good news is you can! One of the best ways to avoid the spreading of the virus is by staying home when you do not feel well. You will be contagious and can quickly spread the cold without even realizing it. It is simply better for everyone if you stay home and rest during your illness. If staying home is simply not possible for you, try staying away from others as much as possible, sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow or a tissue and be sure to wash or sanitize your hands after every sneeze/cough.
Washing your hands is such an essential step in preventing the spread of the cold. Because so many people feel their face unconsciously and then continue to touch other surfaces with their contaminated hands, you can see why it is so important to clean your hands. And not just get your hands wet but wash them right. Make sure you lather up with soap and wash between your fingers, your palms, even under your nails for a good 30 seconds.
Another great tip, while hard to do, is not to touch your face. It only takes a few particles of the virus to cause an infection, so try to avoid rubbing your eyes, picking your nose, and biting your nails while you have symptoms.
Something else you could do to help your symptoms is to stop smoking while you’re sick. Smoking irritates the throat and lungs, which will only make symptoms worse. Even if you do not smoke, it is smart to stay away from those who do; second-hand smoke is enough to cause such irritation. Recent studies also show that smokers have a lower immune response to the cold virus as compared to non-smokers.
Are you ready for another good tip? If someone is sick in your household, try using disposable dishes for that person so as not to spread the cold to other members in the house. This tip may seem like common sense, but it is worth mentioning. If you or anyone else is suffering from a cold, make sure to keep all surfaces clean so as not to infect any new people with the virus.
Viruses can live on surfaces outside the body for a few hours, which is one of the reasons why this virus spreads so quickly. It is important to wipe down all surfaces used often to try to prevent the further spreading of the cold. You could use either hot water and soap, bleach or disinfectant wipes to combat the invisible bug. As discussed previously, children have multiple instances of the flu each year. So it is essential always to wash and disinfect their favorite toys as well when cleaning other surfaces.
An easy tip to follow while you are sick is to utilize the power of paper towels! Cloth towels can trap the virus after being touched, just like any other surface mentioned previously. To avoid infecting others, try using disposable paper towels until the sickness is over.
Another common sense item here is to throw your tissues away immediately after use. Again, the virus can live on that tissue for hours after being used, so it is vital to other people in your household for you to dispose of the soiled cloth so as not to infect them as well. Remember also to wipe down the surface your contaminated tissue was sitting on as the virus can live on that surface as well.
Even though your appetite may dwindle when you are sick, it is still essential to eat healthy while you are sick. Your immune system will have a better time fighting off the infection if you are in tip-top shape. Useful tips to follow include eating your fruits and veggies, making sure you are getting enough sleep and trying to exercise regularly (maybe not so much when everything is plugged up with mucus).
Stress, as mentioned previously, can be a factor in the development of the cold. When we are stressed, we release a hormone called cortisol, which has anti-inflammatory properties. If you are stressed over a long period, your body produces too much of the hormone and can become immune to it. In conclusion, if you are chronically stressed, your body’s anti-inflammatory response is faulty, which makes it more difficult to fight off the common cold.
Now that we know more about the common cold and how we can try to prevent it let us discuss what you can do if you already caught a cold. One natural remedy you could use is honey.
Although evidence is weak for the use of honey to combat the cold, studies suggest that just one tablespoon of the sweet syrup can help with the coughing associated with the sickness. It is thought that honey has some antimicrobial properties, which allows it to be effective against some bacteria and viruses. An excellent way to ingest the honey is to add it to some warm water; you could also add some lemon for that extra boost of vitamin C.
There is also some weak evidence out there showing that zinc lozenges may shorten the duration of your illness by a few days, but this only works for adults. They do not taste the greatest, and they may make you nauseated.
How does zinc work for your body? It prevents the virus from being able to replicate in your body. Not only is it available in lozenges; you may also purchase tablets, syrups, supplements, or nasal sprays. The spray, however, may cause you to lose your sense of smell temporarily.
While staying hydrated is essential all of the time, it is especially important when you are not feeling well. Besides drinking your honey water, just plain old water will do the trick, as well as juice or clear broth.
These all help to loosen congestion as well as keep you hydrated. What to avoid: alcohol and caffeine, which often cause dehydration.
Another way to help loosen congestion is to add moisture back into the air, either using a cool mist vaporizer or a humidifier. Do not use steam! Read that again. Do not use steam. We repeat do not use steam. Why? Steam has been proven ineffective
and could cause burns. Remember, having a dried out nose and throat makes it easier for the virus to attach itself to those linings.
Simple enough: you can only heal when it is in rest mode. The more you sleep, the better you will feel, and the faster you will recover.
Also, stay nice and warm while resting; this will ensure that the body is using all of its energy fighting off the sickness rather than expending energy trying to keep your body at the right temperature.
Although we have touched on this before, another note is warranted. Warm liquids such as chicken soup, tea, or apple juice may decrease congestion by increasing mucus flow. This method is used across cultures, so it has to work, right?
Warm liquids also prevent dehydration, as discussed before, and helps to soothe the inflamed membranes of the nose and throat. If you cannot sleep at night, try concocting a hot toddy: make a cup of your favorite herbal tea, add one teaspoon of honey and one small shot of whiskey or bourbon. However, please drink responsibly. Also, remember, alcohol worsens dehydration, so try limiting yourself to just one of these drinks.
Who doesn’t remember a time when your parents told you to gargle with salt water? Well, it has proven effective against the cold. It is one way to ease that sore and scratchy throat. The mixture is made by adding ¼ to ½ teaspoons of salt to an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Other remedies you could try to help with the sore throat are ice chips or hard candy.
Surprisingly enough, this saltwater trick can be used to ease nasal congestion, as well. For this mixture, you add ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon baking soda to an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Using either a syringe or a nasal irrigation kit, you can squirt the water inside the nasal passages. Hold one nostril closed and squirt water a few times into the other nostril; let water drain naturally. Repeat on the other nostril. You may repeat as many times as needed.
To reduce the tickle in your throat, you could also try an astringent gargle by using a tea that contains tannin to help tighten those mucus membranes. You could also use a viscous gargle made with honey or honey and apple cider vinegar. To make such a remedy, you would need to seep one tablespoon of raspberry leaves or lemon juice into 2 cups of hot water, then mix with one teaspoon of honey. Let this mixture cool before you try gargling with it.
This long word is a natural herbal extract from a plant. It is thought that Echinacea may help prevent colds and relieve nasal congestion associated with the illness.
Research shows that this plant product may even help support the immune system; it possesses antiviral properties and may also fight against flu viruses. Echinacea comes as a supplement or an herbal tea.
Menthol helps relieve the blocked sinuses and congested airways associated with the common cold. The plant product possesses some antibacterial and pain-relieving qualities, which is why it is used in most vapor rubs.
Menthol is extracted from many types of mint plants. Menthol may be added to hot water for a steam inhalation, which has been shown to reduce coughing in sufferers. You could also go the old fashioned way and utilize a vapor rub at night to help with sleep.
This vitamin may help to prevent you from contracting the cold in the first place. In a study of college students, vitamin D takers were less likely to come down with the common cold than those who did not take a daily supplement.
If you live in a colder climate, it may be beneficial for you to take a supplement during the winter months because you receive less sun exposure during that time. Plus, if it helps you not to get the cold, why not take it anyway? Cold weather means the cold is coming!
Mixed results have shown that this product may help relieve the symptoms of the cold or flu. Research has shown that this particular type of ginseng reduces the risk of contracting the illness and also decreases the duration of the illness.
It is probably not surprising to read that you may either eat raw ginseng, or you may take it in capsule or herbal tea form. Herbal teas are probably the most popular option since the hot tea can also help soothe a sore, itchy throat.
All berries contain a chemical called polyphenols, which have been shown to have antiviral properties and can even help fight against the flu virus. Elderberries specifically have been shown to reduce symptoms of the flu.
A cranberry beverage may also help support immune function. Some of the berries contain vitamin C, which is another natural remedy for the common cold.
This vitamin is essential for immune health and is thought to reduce the frequency of colds. Although no scientific data is supporting the claim that vitamin C helps get rid of the cold, researchers have suggested that taking a regular vitamin C supplement could reduce cold symptoms.
Along with berries, citrus fruits and avocados also contain vitamin C; you can also buy this vitamin in supplement form.Feel free to eat the berries raw, mix them in a smoothie, or top them on a dessert.
This tip may seem self-explanatory and straightforward, but it is still an easy way to combat the common cold. It is healthier for you to blow that mucus out of your body rather than swallowing it, which is almost an automatic response from the drainage that is happening.
However, if you blow too hard, you may carry germs back into your ear canals, causing an earache. So make you blow gently and never force it, even if your nasal passages still feel blocked.
Showering on a regular basis can help you prevent catching a cold because you are ridding your body of daily germs. However, if you already have a cold, this at-home remedy is just another way to add moisture back into those nasal passages and help soothe congestion.
Plus, you may be a little sweaty if you are one of the ones who come down with a fever; a shower is the perfect place to make you feel better!
Although we already mentioned menthol as a natural remedy for the cold, it is crucial to make a separate note here about salves. Mentholated salves do work the best, but rubs containing eucalyptus and camphor may also be of some use. Salve is generally placed under the nose to help open up the nasal passages to make breathing easier.
This cream may also help to relieve the irritated skin under the nose from continually having to expel mucus from the nasal passages. All three types of salve also have mild pain relieving properties. It is important to note here to never put this product inside of your nose; always place it on the outside of the body.
The extra elevation helps to reduce nasal congestion. Nasal congestion is one of the reasons it is so hard to sleep at night when you are suffering from the common cold.
Drink an herbal tea before bed, place some salve under your nose and grab that extra pillow for the best night of sleep with a cold you’ll ever experience! Hopefully you will wake up feeling ten times more refreshed than when you went to bed.
The change in air pressure while flying causes extra stress on the body, which we have already analyzed as a factor causing you to catch the cold virus. Flying with a cold may also damage your eardrums due to the congestion associated with the illness combined with the changing pressures during takeoff and landing.
If you have to fly, it is vital to use a decongestant before your flight leaves. If you want to stick with the all-natural remedies, you could try chewing gum and constantly swallowing to relieve that extra pressure.
Fruit coming to the rescue once again! And this yellow fruit is not only health in general, but it is loaded with potassium. However, that is not the miracle ingredient that helps with a cold. Recent research shows that a protein inside of bananas called banana lectin can bust open viruses.
How does it do this? The protein binds to sugar molecules, which are what surrounds the viral agent. For some reason, when the banana protein binds to the sugar around the virus, the virus becomes harmless.
Now let us switch to the vegetables. Carrots contain something called beta carotene; one of beta carotene’s functions is to support the body’s mucus membrane, which is what lines the nasal and throat passageways.
When beta carotene is present, it makes it harder for bacteria to adhere to these membranes and cross into the bloodstream, thus preventing infection in the first place.
Have you tried the ever-so-popular cauliflower crust for homemade pizza yet? How about some do-it-yourself chips? This veggie is rich in glutathione, which is a potent antioxidant that helps to fight off infections.
These antioxidants are also useful in supporting the overall immune health, which is working hard during rhinovirus infection.
Who knew this spice was so versatile? Cinnamon can be used as an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent! So not only does the spice boosts the immune system, it helps to fight against the pathogen that is making you ill.
There are multiple ways to ingest this product; mix it into your coffee grounds, add it to a cup of tea, sprinkle it on top of oatmeal, add to hot chocolate, or sprinkle it on top of some fruit (maybe some berries?).
While they may not seem that healthy at first glance, mushrooms are filled with zinc, which is extremely useful in fighting off the common cold.
When a person is low on zinc, they do not produce as many white blood cells, which is how the body defends itself against infection. Increase your zinc production, and your body becomes the ultimate fighting machine!
While these guys will not help you fight off the cold, they can help to clear out your nasal passages, which will ultimately make you feel better. They contain something called capsaicin, which research has shown promotes the feeling of a congested head.
Not only can chili peppers clear out the sinuses and nasal cavities, but it also helps to break up mucus in the lungs.
While this may sound like a strange remedy, it has been proven to work. Why does it work? Mustard has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. This remedy has been used since the dawn of time, so why not give it a try?
To make a mustard plaster, you mix one tablespoon of mustard with two to four tablespoons of flour. Next, mix in one egg white and enough warm water to make a paste. Then rub this paste in between two pieces of cloth. Rub some olive oil on your chest before placing the plaster cloth on the skin. Believe it or not, mustard burns the skin, so only leave the towel on for a few minutes and wipe off any residue that remains.
Now that we have discussed what does work, let us take a quick moment to consider what will not work for your cold symptoms. Even though doctors may want to prescribe them to you, antibiotics will not help your viral infection. Medicines only work against bacterial infections, not viral infections such as the cold. Taking antibiotics without needing them may cause antibiotic resistance in some bacteria.
Over the counter cough and cold medications are also found to be ineffective for children. They may be harmful to children under the age of six. So why not stick to all the natural remedies discussed above!