Monday, 19 March 2012


It’s the school holidays and with the busy jammed packed holiday resorts the children especially can easily catch an infection such as the common cold. Public places are a constant source of germs and we pick them up in playgrounds, supermarket trolley handles, lift buttons, armrests, public transport, swimming pools etc. But bear in mind that it’s pretty normal for a child to have between 6-8 colds a year in the first three years.
The common cold gives rise to symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and fever. It is caused by the adenovirus and coronavirus and usually runs a self limiting course.  These symptoms last between seven to ten days. Therefore patients rarely need antibiotics unless there is superadded bacterial infection. Treatment of the common cold is symptomatic ie paracetamol/brufen for the fever, oral decongestant/nasal decongestant spray for the blocked nose, cough syrup etc. Hence why a nice bowl of hot chicken soup makes the patient feels better. Symptomatic treatment only helps to ease the symptoms but it’s the patient’s immune system that will continue working against the infection. 

When do we need antibiotics?
Antibiotics are prescribed when there is superadded bacterial infection. Usually this occurs when there’s complication due to spread of the infection.
  • Sinusitis- Patients will have badly congested nose, post nasal drip, yellow to greenish phlegm, headache, facial pain/fullness.
  • Otitis media- Patients will complain of pain in the ear with high grade fever. The ear feels blocked and may have ear discharge.
  • Throat infection such as tonsillitis or severe laryngopharyngitis- This is commonly due to the postnasal drip. In common cold, initial throat discomfort caused by the viral infection is common. However if the sore throat becomes severe and there is pain on swallowing, most likely there is superadded bacterial infection such as Streptococcus.
  • Lung infection such as bronchitis or pneumonia- Patients will present with productive cough, shortness of breath and fever. 

Best remedy- prevention, prevention & prevention
Good hygiene can reduce the exposure and risk of catching a cold. However bear in mind that ‘too much’ hygiene or ‘living in a bubble’ is also not advisable because exposure to some germs are needed to mature and strengthen the immune system. So moderation is the key. (Look up articles on hygiene hypothesis)
  1. Proper hand hygiene and handwashing technique
  2. Avoid close contact with anyone having a cold and do not share utensils
  3. Best to use tissues that can be disposed after use         
  4. Keep the house/bedrooms well ventilated
  5. Boost your immune system- many good habits such as taking supplements, adequate sleep, regular exercise, reduce stress and avoid smoking. There are many articles written on this topic and I leave it to individuals to find what’s best for them. I find this article apt at summarizing this topic Strengthen your immune system 

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