The common cold, sometimes also described as a sinus infection, is a viral infection. This means it is caused by a virus, NOT a bacteria, as the word “infection” might indicate. The main difference between the two being that a bacteria is a living cell, while a virus is not. A virus instead inserts itself into your already existing cells, making you sick. The virus will continue to make you feel sick until the cells it has inhabited dies. Unfortunately, this means a virus needs to run its course, which can range from a few days up to 3 weeks in extreme cases.
As discussed above, the virus causing your common cold cannot be killed. This means that antibiotics DO NOT have any effect on the common cold. Yes, you read that right. Antibiotics kill bacterial cells, however, they do not have that same effect on the cells inhabited by a virus. You can, however, treat the bothersome symptoms you may experience. Symptoms of the common cold can range from mild to so severe that they inhibit your day-to-day life. These symptoms may include, a runny nose, cough, chest congestion, sinus pressure, headache and body aches. Below we will discuss each symptom and how to alleviate it.
- Symptom: a runny nose/post-nasal drip
- What to use: An antihistamine like cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin) or fexofenadine (Allegra)
- Why it works: These drugs block the histamine receptors that are causing your sinuses to leak fluid resulting in dry sinuses
- Hint: These products are also used for seasonal allergies
- Symptom: Productive cough (phlegm in your throat after you cough)
- What to use: guaifenesin (Mucinex)
- Why it works: guaifenesin helps your body break up the mucus stuck in your chest and sinuses
- Hint: You will cough more for a short period of time while your body works out all of that newly broken up mucus
- Symptom: Dry cough
- What to use: Dextromethorphan (Delsym)
- Why it works: Dextromethorphan prevents coughing by suppressing your cough reflex
- Symptom: Chest and sinus congestion
- What to use: pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
- Why it works: pseudoephedrine reduces swelling in your chest and sinuses by shrinking the blood vessels in this area, causing the pressure to be relieved
- Hint: This is behind the counter and requires a valid driver’s license for purchase
- Hint: Consult with your pharmacist (or pharmacy student!) before purchasing if you take any medications for heart disease – they can recommend an alternative product called phenylephrine that works in the same way!
- Symptom: Headache/body aches
- What to use: Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Why it works: acetaminophen is NOT an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, like ibuprofen or naproxen, meaning it provides pain relief without the extra property that can cause kidney and intestinal damage if used to often
- To boost your immune system and help fight the cold
- What to use: Zinc lozenges (Cold-Eeze)
- Why it works: Zinc may prevent the virus from multiplying in your system, as well as prevent it from lodging itself in the mucous membranes of your throat and nose
- Hint: Take every 2-3 hours starting within 24 hours after you begin feeling cold symptoms
In addition to these over-the-counter remedies, FLUIDS and REST are key to kicking a cold. This helps your body grow and shed those infected cells!
Not sick yet, but trying to prevent it? There are a few very easy things you can do to help prevent yourself from catching the common cold this season. Those same fluids and rest that you’re stocking up on when you’re sick, are just as important at preventing you from getting sick! Make sure you’re drinking lots of water and getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night. WASH YOUR HANDS! Do this at every opportunity you get, including after you go to the bathroom, after using the signature pad at the pharmacy or grocery store, and before and after eating. Echinacea has also been proven to be effective at preventing the common cold by increasing your body’s immune response to both viruses and bacteria, and may be worth taking daily during cold season.
If you have any questions about how to prevent or treat your cold symptoms, or about what products are best for you, feel free to ask your Four Corners pharmacist or pharmacy student! We are happy to answer any questions you may have!