Most people catch a cold once or twice a year, especially during the winter season. As is always the case with infectious diseases, prevention remains the best weapon to reduce the risk of being affected by the common cold.
Life in society, with its multiple interpersonal contacts (public transport, handshakes, for example), creates ideal conditions for the transmission of microbes, in particular those which infect the respiratory tract. More than 200 different viruses are capable of causing a cold. After entering the body through the nose or eyes, these viruses multiply rapidly in the cells of the nose and throat and cause the characteristic (and very unpleasant!) symptoms of the common cold, such as a runny nose, sneezing, cough, congestion and headache. Although these symptoms are generally mild and disappear on their own 5 to 10 days after infection, the common cold nevertheless involves the use of various medications: syrups, decongestants and other cold medicines sold without a prescription…
Against colds, good hygiene and good sleep
Since there is unfortunately no known treatment capable of curing the common cold, many efforts have been made to identify factors that can prevent infection or reduce the severity of symptoms.
– Maintain good hygiene. Cold viruses are transmitted between individuals by fine droplets expelled during coughing or sneezing, or by hands contaminated by nasal secretions. As a result, just regular hand washing is often very effective in preventing a cold. This simple hygiene measure is particularly important in winter, a time when the activity of cold viruses is particularly high given the greater vulnerability of the lining of the nose in cold weather.
– Rest the immune system. People who have a properly functioning immune system may be less likely to catch a cold. A good place to start is getting enough sleep, as sleep plays a very important role in maintaining immune function. Thus, people who sleep less than seven hours a day are three times more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep eight hours or more.
A little echinacea
Other preventive means have been proposed over the years, but their effectiveness remains very uncertain. For example, studies have suggested that echinacea supplements may prevent or reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, an effect possibly linked to certain molecules it contains (alkylamides, cichoric acid), which are capable of modulating the immune system. In contrast, a recent study of 719 volunteers between the ages of 12 and 80 showed that people who took echinacea had cold symptoms last one to half a day shorter than those who took a placebo or those who received no treatment.
Ultimately, if the prevention of the common cold goes first and foremost through healthy lifestyle habits, the fact remains that this infection is so frequent that there is no infallible method to guard against it. And when the cold strikes, you have to be patient by resting and eating properly to stay well hydrated and help the immune system eliminate the virus.
Cohen et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med, 169: 62-67 Barrett et al. Echinacea for treating the common cold. Ann Inter Med, 153:769-77.