UNPLEASANT and untimely too – doesn’t it seem you always catch a cold when it’s most inopportune?
The common cold is a respiratory illness caused by any of over 100 types of viruses, notes general practitioner Dr Hans-Michael Muehlenfeld. They’re transmitted by inhaling the airborne droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, by physical contact with an infected person or by picking up the germs from a contaminated object, such as a door handle.
Cold viruses have an easy job of it when your immune system is weakened. You’re more susceptible in chilly and damp weather, when you’re not properly dressed or spend time in overheated and poorly ventilated rooms.
At particular risk are people who work outdoors a lot or in social professions that expose them to many people’s germs, reveals a 2018 survey of its members by German public health insurance company AOK.
Some cold sufferers are either unable or unwilling to take a break from their normal activities, whether for personal reasons or work obligations. Instead of seeing a doctor, they stop by a pharmacy.
“Giving advice is especially difficult when someone comes in expecting a medication that will completely cure their cold right after taking it once,” says Dr Andreas Kiefer, president of Germany’s Federal Chamber of Pharmacists (BAK).
When advising the customer, the pharmacist must clarify a number of questions: How long has the person had the symptoms? Does the person take other medications or have an underlying illness?
Equally important, Kiefer says, is to determine whether the person’s symptoms are indicative of a cold or perhaps something else. In the latter case, he recommends a doctor’s visit.
“A lot of people underestimate the tremendous amount of energy that immune defence costs the body,” Kiefer says. “It’s like running a marathon: The body fights with all its immune defences against the invading viruses.”
The “absolute exhaustion” that many cold sufferers feel is an effect of this battle, he says, adding that whoever tries to speed up recovery with drugs from the pharmacy may well be laid up longer than expected.
There’s no vaccine for the common cold, but you can do some things to help prevent getting one – for example, regularly wash your hands, thoroughly air out your home and wear clothing befitting the weather.
While many people believe that taking vitamin tablets will help, Kiefer says that simply eating balanced meals will give you all the nutrients you need.
It’s also a good idea to keep your home medicine cabinet well-stocked. Muehlenfeld recommends pain-relieving and fever-reducing medications, nose drops, throat lozenges, sage tea to drink and inhale, and peppermint oil.
Kiefer advises against combination drugs, warning that taking them could inadvertently result in overdoses or adverse drug interactions.
The experts agree that it doesn’t matter whether you turn to medicinal herbs, home remedies or drugs for relief, since none of them can cure a cold; they only alleviate the symptoms.
“They make it a little easier to get over the time until you’re healthy again,” Muehlenfeld says. – dpa