The Common Cold and Misconception
1st Year MBBS, Islamabad Medical and Dental College
The Common Cold is the most common and prevalent disease in our society.
Several remedies and medicines have been developed to overcome this problem; however,
contrary to popular beliefs, there is no cure for the common cold. Despite great
advances in medicine, the common cold continues to be a great burden on society in terms
of human suffering and economic loss.
The common cold is an acute respiratory tract infection that is usually caused by viruses. It is mostly self-limiting but has a drastic impact on our daily lives, such as lack of presence and effectiveness at school or work, ﬁnancial burden, and more. According to previous studies, adults face approximately 2-4 colds per year, while children are affected 6-8 times on average.1
How it is caused
Symptoms of the common cold are mainly related to the respiratory tract and affect the nose, sinuses, pharynx, larynx, and other large airways. These symptoms include sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion and drainage, sore throat, general malaise, and fever. They may appear as early as 10 hr. after infection and usually reach their maximum intensity at around three days after onset. Coughing in particular may still persist after a few weeks.2 The most prevalent causative agent is Human Rhinovirus, although many other viruses, such as Coronavirus and Syncytial virus, also cause this problem. In the majority of cases, no infectious organisms can be identiﬁed.3
Spread of Diseases
The transmission of common cold infection occurs mostly through hand-to-hand contact, with passage to the nostrils or eyes. This rejects the common perception that they pass as droplets in the air. The wide variety of viruses present in nature makes it nearly impossible to develop a cure or vaccine for the common cold. Frequent mutations in viral proteins of RNA viruses (for example, genetic drift and shift of inﬂuenza) have further caused problems in the prevention of the illness. Inﬂuenza vaccines are the only commercially available vaccines and puriﬁed subunit vaccines are used worldwide. The A and B strains used in immunization were selected yearly, based on recommendations by the World Health Organization in accordance with national public health institutions.4
Prevention, Treatment and Ineffective treatment
It is important to know that most cases of the common cold improve without treatment, usually within a week to 10 days. However, cough may linger for a few days. Symptomatic treatment of colds is aimed at relieving the most disturbing symptoms of the illness, and hundreds of different over-the-counter preparations are available. Surprisingly, there are more ineffective treatments than effective treatments for the common cold, and some may even be harmful. A research article has stated that “Treatments that are not recommended include antibiotics, antivirals, most cough medications, antihistamine monotherapy, intranasal corticosteroids, steam, Vitamins D and E, Echinacea, and Pelargonium sidoides.”5 Further studies have shown that most common household practices have proven ineffective against colds, and they mainly disappear on their own. Overall, it is clear that the common cold has no cure, contrary to popular belief, and only measures can be taken to prevent the disease and suppress symptoms.5
- Van Driel ML, Scheire S, Deckx L, Gevaert P, De Sutter A. What treatments are effective for common cold in adults and children? Bmj. 2018 Oct 10;363.
- Schapowal A, Dobos G, Cramer H, Ong KC, Adler M, Zimmermann A, Brandes-Schramm J, Lehmacher W. Treatment of signs and symptoms of the common cold using EPs 7630-results of a meta-analysis. Heliyon. 2019 Nov 1;5(11): e02904.
- Arroll B. Common cold. BMJ clinical evidence. 2011;2011.
- Wat D. The common cold: a review of the literature. European Journal of Internal Medicine. 2004 Apr 1;15(2):79-88.
- DeGeorge KC, Ring DJ, Dalrymple SN. Treatment of the common cold. American family physician. 2019 Sep 1;100(5):281-9.
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