Understanding and Managing Common Cold Symptoms

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Jan 29 2006 - 9:20pm

Symptoms of Cold

It may not be nice to fool Mother Nature, but when it comes to colds, you need all the ammunition you can get, say health experts. Americans suffer an estimated one billion colds a year, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Environment's Effect on the Cold

Because so many colds occur in the winter time, there has always been a sense that cold weather causes colds. In fact, a recent small study from the United Kingdom's Common Cold Centre in Wales found that when people were exposed to a chill they came down with cold symptoms at double the rate of those study participants who kept warm. But there was no difference in the severity of cold symptoms. That is because people who are exposed to the cold experience a constriction of blood vessels in their noses, which shuts off warm blood from nourishing the white cells that fight infection, the study's authors say. The study was reported in the medical journal Family Practice. "The reduced defenses in the nose allow the virus to get stronger and common cold symptoms develop," says study author Ron Eccles, of Cardiff University. But, he adds, "although the chilled subject believes he has 'caught a cold,' what has in fact happened is that the dormant infection has taken hold."

Dr. Jordan Josephson, director of New York Nasal and Sinus Center in New York City, says "As body temperature drops, the body fights infection less well, so the two could be related." Not everyone agrees that staying curled up in front of a warm fire is the best remedy for a cold, however. "Whatever compromises your own immune system would put you at risk, [but] outdoor air dilutes the cold viruses," says Jean Pfeiffer, RN, MPH, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. "A lot of health professionals believe that being outdoors is healthy for you," says Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer adds that cold viruses are also very easily spread indoors.

Every time a person sneezes or even speaks, he or she releases large droplets that contain the virus. These droplets are carried to others both by the air and by landing on surfaces, which become infected by these droplets. According to the Minnesota expert, indoor gatherings of people - which are more common in cold weather - are probably the most likely breeding grounds for colds.

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