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Dr Russ Blog - The Common Cold and What to Do
The Common Cold and What to Do
Created on 3/26/2010

The common cold is caused by viruses that invade the respiratory tract. The way they do so sounds a little like a horror movie - once a virus invades a cell it takes over the "machinery" of the cell to make mulitple copies of itself. These virus copies then spread to other cells and cause the same kind of havoc.

Fortunately, the immune system comes to the rescue! Unfortunately, most of the symptoms experienced with a cold are due to the immune system's response to these viruses.

The infected cells send out signals for help and the cavalry, in the form of immune system cells, arrives. These cells release compounds that make blood vessels leaky and that attract other immune system cells. These latter cells help corral and destroy or remove the viral particles, and repair or clean up damaged cells. Some of the chemicals released, however, do local damage to otherwise healthy tissues, too.

Healing takes place quickly in most instances, but at the time the combination of nasal congestion, stuffiness, sneezing, cough and sinus pain is no fun.

How not to get a cold in the first place? Well, in this regard at least (!), listen to your mom:
- wash your hands frequently, or at least use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer regularly throughout the day
- get at least 7 hours of sleep each night
- manage your stress in healthy ways (studies show that persistent stress doesn't cause illness, per se, but it can lessen the effectiveness of the immune system)
- eat healthy foods
- drink plenty of fluids

You might also consider using a good probiotic for 1-2 months when everyone around you seems to have a cold.

Some people use immune boosting agents, like the Chinese medicinal herb astragalus, but I think our immune systems might not need the boost if we do everything else on the list above.

If you do get a cold, follow most of the recommendations listed above for preventing colds - get plenty of rest, wash your hands so others won't get sick, manage your stress, and eat and drink healthily.

I don't favor over-the-counter (OTC) remedies in the form of decongestants or cough suppressants because they often have side effects. This is especially true in children, where side effects can be very serious. Don't use OTC cold remedies in children under age 6 years.

Naturals remedies promoted as shortening the duration of cold symptoms include echinacea, zinc lozenges or nasal sprays, and andrographis. Check with your doctor first when considering the zinc preparations, as some issues have been identified. My family has had good luck with liquid extracts of echinacea. There are no good prescription drug aids that reliably shorten the duration of the common cold.

If you develop symptoms like facial pain or high fever contact your doctor, as your symptoms may reflect a process other than the common cold.

Take care this spring, enjoy, and be well.
Dr. Russ

** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **

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