Cold comfort

Colds are one of the most common ailments of the winter months. Almost 90 per cent of adults get a cold at least once or twice a year, according to the latest research.

Some will catch several and will be laid low for days by this infection which affects the upper respiratory tract.

The cold virus does not produce any symptoms when it first enters your system, its real beginning therefore passes unnoticed.

It is passed on through tiny droplets of fluid which contain the virus and is spread through the air or by direct contact with someone who is infected, explains Gort based pharmacist Brendan Quinn.

“Viruses spread easily in crowded enclosed spaces so avoid environments with lots of people and keep rooms well ventilated at all times. Avoid touching your eyes and nose after physical contact with someone who has a cold as this is one of the most common ways of spreading infection. If possible, wash your hands thoroughly after blowing your nose.”

If you have fallen victim to a cold what can you do to help yourself? Even with lighter colds which do not require bed rest it is important to recognise your limitations, he says.

“As your body deals with the virus you will become tired and worn out more easily so slow down. Avoid stuffy and smoky atmospheres because they will make you feel worse. If you are a smoker, stop as this will only irritate the mucous membrane lining of your nose and will make respiratory problems worse.”

Balanced diet

Mr Quinn says the most effective way to meet your daily vitamin and mineral requirements is by eating a balanced diet. Include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables which will help give your body the best chance of fighting off this infection.

“When you have a cold you need more fluids than usual. Drink plenty of water and juice and eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. Drinking hot fluids will also help ease your cough and sore throat.”

World renowned naturopath, author and broadcaster Jan de Vries, who has lectured in Galway, says the common cold is often under-estimated but should never be neglected.

“It can lead to inflammation and infection in the upper respiratory tracts and is often accompanied by nasal congestion. There are many different causes of a cold, often a virus is to blame. The nose, mouth and throat may become infected and inflamed causing swelling and sometimes such a viral infection leads to secondary infection resulting in nasal discomfort. In such cases common symptoms are a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, watery eyes and headaches.

Natural reserves

“When a person’s immunity is low and their natural reserves are below par an ordinary common cold can result in a general debility such as a chronic infection, allergic disorders, injury to the mucous membranes and other such chronic conditions. Sometimes a cold is accompanied by a fever but with some sensible care the overall condition can soon be brought under control. On the whole the patient will be feeling much better within four to seven days.”

He recommends that sufferers keep their diets very light, many will not feel like eating much when they are congested anyway.

“Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, especially fruit juices rich in vitamin C. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and take a vitamin C supplement. Eat wholefood products, including brown rice, a daily salad, cress, onions and garlic. Remember to eat slowly and ease up on sugar and salt.”

Facts about colds

* Children get six to eight colds a year. This high rate is blamed on their lack of a built up resistance to infection and close contact with other children.

* Adults average two to four a year with a greater frequency in parents of children.

* A cold can last up to a week but some last longer, especially in children, older people and those in poor health.

* A cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. As many as 200 viruses are known to cause a cold.

* Sneezing propels cold viruses through the air at 100mph so anyone within a 30 feet radius can be affected.

* A healthy lifestyle will help you fight off infections. Eat healthily, stop smoking, cut down on alcohol, lose weight if overweight and try to reduce your stress levels.

* A typical person will spend six years of his/her life suffering from colds

* The likelihood of catching a cold is nearly double for a person with high stress levels

* People tend to catch colds in crowded humid places, such as cinemas, buses, schools and churches

* Viruses enter the body through the nose, mouth and eyes

* Colds are more common between October and March because cold weather conditions allow the virus to spread more easily

* The time between infection and the appearance of symptoms is about two to three days. The contagious period varies but an infected person can probably pass on the disease the day before the symptoms appear and remain potentially infectious for three to five days

* Colds and flus are viral infections so antibiotics are of no help. It is important not to take these if you do not have a bacterial infection. Antibiotics can wipe out normal bacteria that live in your body which can result in symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea and yeast infections. Also, the overuse of antibiotics over the years has contributed to the rise in drug-resistant bacterial infections

* Many experts argue there is no direct connection between contracting a cold and getting your feet wet, walking in the rain or sitting in a draught. British researchers conducted an experiment aimed at discovering the effect of chilling on a group of volunteers. They divided the subjects into three groups and innoculated one set with cold viruses and had them stand around in the cold for half an hour wearing wet swimsuits. A second group was exposed to the same physical discomfort but not innoculated. A third group was innoculated but left dry and cosy. Eventually, the first and third group succumbed to the sniffles at the same rate while the second group stayed healthy.

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