Winter is the time of the year when most people fall prey to illnesses such as common cold and flu. Change in the weather puts kids and the elderly at a high risk of suffering from cold. Even young adults are susceptible to a bout of cold when the season changes. It is one of the leading causes of absenteeism from school and office and regular visits to a doctor.
Most people believe that common cold and flu are the same. However, they are caused by different viruses and only share a few symptoms! Read on to find out more about the difference between cold and flu and a few simple tips on how to prevent these infections.
Common cold and flu: What is the difference?
The symptoms of flu and common cold are almost the same which makes it difficult to differentiate between the two. Moreover, both occur at the same time of the year. However, common cold is usually caused by rhinoviruses and people experience mild symptoms like a runny nose or sneezing. On the other hand, flu is caused by the influenza virus with symptoms that are generally severe and complicated. These include severe body ache and fever. Hence, the most common way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated.
How to avoid catching a cold?
Most people are prone to common cold during winters, however, it is possible to catch a cold all around the year. Hence, it is important to follow a few tips that can reduce the risk of catching a cold.
1. Wash your hands properly
The viruses that cause colds can live on the hands, which in turn can lead the virus to enter into your body. Hence, it is important to wash your hands regularly to lower your risk of getting infected. Studies have shown that handwashing and use of alcohol-based handwashes can prevent cold.
A recent study published in the Journal Food and Environmental Virology determined the prevalence of respiratory viruses on office fomites. According to the study, office equipment such as computer keyboards and telephones were more contaminated than the doorknobs and light switches. Hence, it is important to wash your hands frequently even when you are working at your desk to reduce the viral load.
2. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands
The viruses causing cold can be transmitted through respiratory secretions. Hence, if an infected person sneezes or coughs, the virus can spread to others. Also, when you shake hands, hug or kiss an infected person, the chances of getting infected are high. Moreover, if you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing the hands, the risk increases further. So do wash your hands or ask a person suffering from the cold to do so after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose to prevent the spread of the virus to others.
3. Avoid contact with those who have a cold.
Viruses that cause colds can spread when a healthy person comes in direct contact with an infected person. The virus can spread through the air and close physical contact. Hence, if anyone in your family suffers from cold or if your colleague is sick, it is best to avoid sharing things. It is wise to stay at home if you are down with the cold.
4. Zinc supplements can help!
According to a 2013 study, zinc, when administered within 24 hours of the onset of the symptoms of cold, caused a significant reduction in the duration of the symptoms. However, it didn’t show an improvement in the severity of the symptoms. The dose of up to 75 mg of zinc per day was shown to shorten the length of the cold. Hence, if you feel cold then, taking zinc lozenges can help. However, it can lead to side-effects such as bad taste and nausea. So talk to your doctor before sucking on zinc lozenges or using zinc supplements to prevent cold.
5. Get your daily dose of sleep
The role of sleep in keeping you healthy both physically and mentally cannot be underestimated. It is known that lack of sleep can suppress your immune system which in turn can make you susceptible to infections. A 2015 study in the Journal Sleep revealed that healthy men and women who were sleep deprived were at a higher risk of suffering from common cold. So if you want to boost your immunity and prevent the common cold, getting sufficient sleep is the key.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
1. Stobnicka A, Gołofit-Szymczak M, Wójcik-Fatla A, et al. Prevalence of Human Parainfluenza Viruses and Noroviruses Genomes on Office Fomites. Food Environ Virol. 2018 Jun;10(2):133-140.
2. Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 18;(6):CD001364.
3. Prather AA, Janicki-Deverts D, Hall MH, Cohen S. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep. 2015 Sep 1;38(9):1353-9.