'Tis the season for joy, peace, and ... COUGHS AND COLDS !

The average adult may get 2 to 4 colds per year, often during the winter. However, cold weather does not make you more prone to catching a cold. There are over 200 viruses responsible for causing the Common Cold. Rhinoviruses are the most common type of virus causing about 40% of colds in adults. 

Sneezing or coughing can easily transmit cold viruses in droplets from an infected person's nose or mouth. The virus is also easily transmitted by hand-to-hand contact. Since cold viruses can live for several hours on hard surfaces, a cold may be caught by turning a door knob or answering a telephone that was recently touched by a person infected with a cold virus.

Diagnosis, Symptoms, Complications:
A simple sniffle is not usually a matter for the doctor. Some people say they have the "flu" (influenza) when they actually have a common cold... which usually lasts 7 to 10 days.

Often the symptoms of a cold are:
Sore throat, runny nose, congestion, sneezing or headache triggered by congestion, slight fever or chills, coughing (often dry at first and then can progress to a productive cough with phlegm). Influenza has similar symptoms, but usually would also involve a high fever as well as muscle aches.
Colds could aggravate symptoms of other conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Colds could also lead to strep throat, pneumonia, ear infections, or acute bacterial bronchitis. 

YOU SHOULD SEE YOUR DOCTOR if your symptoms do not improve AFTER 10 TO 14 DAYS, or if you begin to develop symptoms which are not typical of the Common Cold, such as coughing up thick brownish sputum, getting a bad headache or developing an earache or high fever.

Antibiotics do not kill viruses. So antibiotics are not used to treat the Common Cold which is caused by a virus, other than the fact that antibiotics are used to treat or help prevent complications in susceptible patients who could be at risk for developing a bacterial infection triggered by a cold.

Nasal decongestants may help with the "stuffiness" of nasal congestion. Although these should be used with caution, and should not be used at all in patients who have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma, thyroid disease, prostate enlargement, or who may be pregnant or breast feeding without first talking with a physician. 

Cough suppressants such as Dextromethorphan (DM) are useful to suppress a "dry' cough. However, if the cough is productive (that is a cough with phlegm), it is best not to suppress the cough, especially if there is a history of bronchitis or asthma or emphysema.

Expectorants will loosen the phlegm and help the body get rid of it.

Antihistamines have a drying effect on a runny nose. People with chronic lung disease, glaucoma, or difficulty in urination due to enlarged prostate should talk with their doctor before using antihistamines.

Analgesics such as "Tylenol" (acetaminophen), "Advil" (ibuprofen), and "Aspirin" (ASA) can lower fever and help with aches and pains. ASA should not be used in children under 18 years of age because of the risk of Reye's Syndrome.

CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 6 should not be given over-the-counter cough and cold medications, according to Health Canada, since there have been rare reports of serious side-effects, especially if too much of these medications were given. 

MAKE SURE YOU WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN with warm soap and water, especially after touching objects that could have a "cold virus" on them. If water and soap are not available, then using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is wise. Make sure you rub your hands until the sanitizer has evaporated.