Winter is just around the corner, and with it a whole host of fun and celebration to look forward to. But the prospect of coughing, wheezing, and having all manner of things coming out of your nose kills the festive spirit somewhat. We look at what you can do to avoid getting a cold this winter.
What is the common cold?
The common cold is a blanket term for a number of mild viral infections (it’s estimated that there are around 200) affecting your airways, nose, throat and sinuses.
As you may have guessed from the name, it’s an extremely everyday occurrence. It’s also one you shouldn’t be too worried about, as symptoms tend to clear up on their own in a couple of weeks.
The typical symptoms are coughing, sneezing, a blocked or runny nose and a sore throat. Headaches and fevers may sometimes occur too, but these tend to indicate the flu instead.
Perhaps the worst thing about the common cold is that it is highly contagious – those infected can begin to spread the virus before they even show symptoms. Snuggling by the fireside with your nearest and dearest may need to be avoided if you’re determined not to get sick this season.
The virus is spread through contact with droplets of fluid from an infected person’s nose or mouth, which have usually been expelled in a cough or a sneeze.
Because there are so many varieties of the cold virus, it is not possible to gain overall immunity to it. If you’re really unlucky, you might get sick from another strain of it just after fighting off a previous bout.
How can I avoid getting a cold?
There is no cure for a cold but there are ways to avoid catching it in the first place – and they’re really pretty simple.
- Get into the habit of washing your hands with soap regularly, especially if you’re about to eat or prepare food. That means obligatory trips to the office toilet before you launch yourself at the Christmas party buffet.
- Keep surfaces clean. This means shared kitchen counters, bathroom cabinets and even your desk space at work.
- If you live or work with other people, try to stick to using your own mugs, bowls and cutlery, and if you have to use communal stuff, give it a good wash beforehand.
- Don’t share towels with someone who has a cold.
- Try not to touch your face and eyes too much. If you have any infected droplets on your hands, you could pass them into your system this way.
- Many people believe they can avoid a cold by taking vitamin C or echinacea but there isn’t a great deal of medical evidence to back this up.
If you do get sick, avoid rushing straight to your GP. It’s likely that your symptoms will clear up on their own, and in the meantime you can help the process along by doing the following.
- Drinking plenty of water and other fluids to stay hydrated.
- Getting lots of rest.
- Eating healthily (that means lots of veg and, sadly, not too many mince pies).
- Taking over-the-counter painkillers and decongestants.
For more information on the treatment of a cold, read this guide, written by the NHS.
Can I catch a cold from being too cold?
Actually, despite the name, and the widely held misconception: no, you can’t. Though colds are more common during the winter months, there is no link between being cold and contracting this particular virus.
However, according to the Common Cold Centre, getting a chill – particularly on the nose – may increase the likelihood of symptoms if you already have the cold virus in your system.
Whilst you can only contract the virus by coming into contact with infected droplets from the mouth or nose of another person, you may be lowering your resistance to the infection by exposing yourself to the cold. So wrap up warm!
The stress of Christmas shopping
Another thing to bear in mind is that the lead-up to Christmas and New Year can be extremely stressful.
Rushing around buying presents, dropping a ton of money on a New Year’s Eve party and facing the prospect of returning to work can result in a heavy psychological burden. This can wear your body out and make you more susceptible to getting ill.
So this festive season, remember that – along with washing your hands and avoiding the sneezers – finding time to put your feet up and have a cuppa can also work wonders.
Not sure if you’ve got a cold or the flu? Read this guide written by one of our doctors.