There's a reason it's called "the common cold" - it's incredibly common. No matter how many hygienic habits you've picked up, you're likely to come down with a cold eventually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults catch an average of 2 to 3 colds each year. But that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Catching a cold can be miserable, and having to miss days of work or school to rest up and get better can be seriously inconvenient. But the most obnoxious aspects of getting sick can be made a little bit better if you're prepared. You can stock up on healing teas, make a trip to the drugstore for medicine and take steps to avoid spreading germs to your friends and family. You can also be on the lookout for the early symptoms of a cold.
Recognize the earliest symptoms
Once you've caught a cold, symptoms can start to crop up as early as one to three days after you've been infected, and they will probably persist for much longer than that. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average cold lasts for around 7 to 10 days.
Before the rest of your symptoms hit, it's common to experience a scratchy throat. This might feel like a "tickle" in your throat or just general irritation. This is due to inflammation in the throat. To combat it, try drinking a soothing tea with honey or gargle some salty water. Salt water works by drawing out infected fluids from the throat, temporarily easing inflammation, according to doctors who spoke with WebMD. The Mayo Clinic recommends dissolving a half-tablespoon of table salt into 8 ounces of warm water.
As inflammation worsens, the tickle in your throat can start to feel more like a sore throat. The saltwater trick can work here, too, but you may need to take some additional measures. Sucking on menthol lozenges, taking painkillers, staying hydrated and drinking tea with honey could help ease your discomfort.
Once the immune system starts to respond to the invading cold virus, it's common to develop a headache. There's not much you can do to cure a headache besides taking pain medication, but you can avoid making it worse by eliminating other headache triggers such as lack of sleep and dehydration. Drink fluids throughout the day and try to get the amount of sleep recommended by doctors.
Ever notice that when you catch a cold you start feeling shivery? There's a reason it feels so healing to spend the day hiding under blankets. Sometimes, fighting off a virus can give you a low-grade fever. Because your body temperature increases slightly, the air surrounding you feels colder by comparison. If your fever escalates to over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, however, or you find that you have more violent chills, you should see a doctor according to advice from the Mayo Clinic. It might not be a cold you're fighting off - feeling cold is a small symptom that could signal something more serious.
Your body is working hard to kick your immune system into high gear, and as a result, you'll probably feel tired. You may need more sleep than usual and feel lethargic throughout the day. Keep yourself energized during the day by eating lots of nutrient-rich foods and make sure you get plenty of rest.
Symptoms such as tiredness and headaches can be distracting. When you have a cold, it might be harder to concentrate and be productive at getting things done. If you can, try to take a nap to help you focus. According to a sleep doctor, there's a perfect nap length to ensure that you aren't too groggy and feel more rested once you wake up.
Body aches can happen for a wide variety of reasons, including poor posture or just feeling sore after exercising for the first time in a while. But if you feel achy joints and muscles in conjunction with some other cold symptoms, your sickness could be the cause. To relieve achy muscles, try stretching throughout the day, staying loaded up on fluids and taking a painkiller.
A runny nose is probably the most well-known symptom of a cold. It often starts within the first couple of days once your body realizes there's an invading virus. You produce mucus in order to protect the inner linings of your nose from invading pathogens. Essentially, your body is trying to both flush out existing pathogens and block new ones from getting in. You'll likely develop a lot of mucus in the beginning of your cold, resulting in a runny nose that has you reaching for tissues all day long. If you do have a runny nose, be sure to avoid eating foods that could make this symptom worse.
Yellow or green mucus
You might notice that your mucus starts to run yellow or green. There's a common belief that mucus only turns yellow or green due to an infection (such as a sinus infection), which can be far more serious than a common cold. But that just isn't true. You could have yellow and green mucus when you aren't infected, and clear mucus when you are. Mucus turns green because certain enzymes in white blood cells released during an immune response are tinged green. So you may not have an infection at all, though you probably at least have a cold.
Some strains of the cold virus can cause inflammation of the airways, which can produce mucus in your respiratory system, making you congested and worsening your cough. This is also known as bronchitis, and in some cases it can be serious. But on other occasions, the inflammation is not severe and is just a passing cold symptom. Cough medicine may help, as could breathing in steam from a hot shower or pot of boiling water, using a humidifier while you sleep, drinking tea with honey and drinking lots of water.
Any time there's mucus in your nasal cavities, you're likely to sneeze more often. If you know what happens in your body when you sneeze, this makes sense. Keep some tissues nearby to sneeze into when one strikes - sneezing into your arm just won't cut it, and you don't want to spew your germs onto the people and things around you. And if you sneeze into your hands, make sure you wash your hands regularly.
Chest congestion and built-up mucus can cause a nasty cough. Yes, a cough is annoying, but it actually serves a purpose: It helps to get rid of the mucus building up in your throat and lungs. Persistent coughing is especially uncomfortable because it can interfere with sleep. A lack of sleep can, in turn, make your cold even worse. To deal, try propping your head up on a couple of pillows while you sleep. This can help drain mucus and help you cough less frequently, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Additionally, when you do cough, it will feel more comfortable than coughing lying down.
This symptom doesn't affect everyone. But if you have asthma, the onset of a cold could worsen your condition. This is due to the cold's effect on your airways - a cold can cause inflammation, narrowing the airways and increasing your likelihood of an attack. If you have asthma, you may want to talk to your doctor if you come down with a cold. You may need to change your medication dosage or frequency until you get better.
When are you contagious?
Alright, so you think you have a cold. How long do you need to quarantine yourself to keep others from getting sick? The exact length of time that you're contagious will vary depending on the virus and your immune response, but there are a few rules of thumb. You're actually contagious before symptoms even start, but once they do, you'll likely remain contagious for up to a week. And once your symptoms dissipate, you're no longer contagious, according to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. So should you stay home from work? And if your child is sick, how long should you be keeping them home from school for? We asked nurses, and here's the advice they gave.
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