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The Common Cold and How to Deal With It

January 25th, 2012 Healthy Living

We've all been there before - the runny nose, itchy throat and constant sneezing - what else could it be but the ever pervasive common cold? According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 62 million cases occur in the United States each year. If it seems strange to you that we can't beat this illness in this age of modern medicine, consider the fact that more than 200 viruses can cause cold symptoms - it's impractical to develop vaccines against every single one, especially because those viruses can evolve resistances to treatment over time.

1. Causes. It should be noted that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that cold temperatures directly cause people to become sick. What's more likely is that we tend to spend more time indoors when winter rolls around, which means we're in closer contact with people, making it much easier for viruses to transmit between individuals. It's also been suggested that changes in relative humidity between seasons may have something to do with it.

According to the Mayo Clinic, young children are most susceptible to the cold, simply because they haven't developed immunity to many of the viruses that cause it. It doesn't help that kids aren't very careful about covering their mouths when they cough and washing their hands. If your little one frequently falls ill, your best course of action may be to help him or her ride it out. After a few years, the colds should taper off.

2. Treatment. Some treatment methods, like chicken soup, have been around as long as any of us can remember, and for good reason! No one is going to tell you that a bowl of chicken soup magically eliminates a virus from your body, but inhaling the fumes may have anti-inflammatory and mucus-thinning effects. It's also relatively easy to eat and digest in a time when your appetite may not be particularly big.

Also note that cold-causing viruses tend to do very well in dry conditions, which is why it's important to drink as many fluids as possible. You can't flush a cold out, but drinking water and juice can help provide relief for your symptoms. In the same vein, it may be worth investing in a humidifier if you have a hard time dealing with colds. Because dry air can exacerbate symptoms in your nose and throat, adding some humidity may provide relief. Be diligent about cleaning the humidifier, however, or it may become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold.

3. Prevention. Unfortunately, there's no sure-fire way to protect yourself from viruses (except for vaccines, which don't exist for the common cold). The best thing you can do is keep yourself as healthy as possible so that the cold runs its course as quickly as possible.

It should be noted that vitamin C can't actually cure your cold, but if you take it before the worst of your symptoms, you may be able to shorten their duration. Be careful, though - according to the National Institutes of Health, taking a lot of vitamin C for a long period of time can be bad for your health. And if you take too much, your body may simply reject all of it, undoing all the Emergen-C you chugged.