AN unmistakable tickle in the throat, watery eyes, and a sinking feeling – we're all familiar with the telltale signs of a looming cold.
Adults suffer from colds on average two or three times a year – and kids get them even more.
They can strike at the most unfortunate of times, leaving us wondering -how long will this last, and is there any way I can prevent it from getting worse?
What are the symptoms of a cold?
A cold is a mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways.
Main symptoms include a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, sneezing and a cough.
How long does a cold last?
Colds usually clear up within a week or two, but you should start to feel better around seven to 10 days in.
You don't tend to need to see a doctor, but you can ask a pharmacist for the best over-the-counter medicines.
A person becomes contagious from a few days before their symptoms begin until all of their symptoms have gone – around two weeks in total.
Can you stop a cold?
When a cold is on its way, there's precious little you can do to prevent it from developing.
But you can get a headstart on the recovery process by slowing down, getting plenty of rest and looking after your body as soon as you feel the cold coming.
You should also avoid cold and damp environments, and keep dry and warm.
Some traditional remedies may shorten the duration of a cold.
According to NHS Scotland, there is some evidence to suggest that taking zinc supplements within a day of the symptoms starting will speed up recovery from a cold and reduce the severity of symptoms.
Some studies say the same for vitamin C – but NHS Scotland said there is currently little evidence to support it.
Echinacea is also touted as a herbal remedy to shorten colds. But while the evidence is mixed, drinking it as a warm tea may soothe the symptoms of a sore throat and congestion.
What helps get rid of a cold?
Sleep and fluids seem to be the top tips from medics when it comes to getting rid of a cold.
NHS Scotland suggests:
- resting, drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthily
- taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to reduce any fever or discomfort
- using decongestant sprays or tablets to relieve a blocked nose
- trying remedies such as gargling salt water and sucking on menthol sweets to ease a sore throat.
How can you stop a cold from spreading?
Advice from the NHS recommends you:
- wash your hands regularly, particularly before touching your nose or mouth and before handling food
- always sneeze and cough into tissues – this will help prevent the virus-containing droplets from your nose and mouth entering the air, where they can infect others; you should throw away used tissues immediately and wash your hands
- clean surfaces regularly to keep them free of germs
- use your own cup, plates, cutlery and kitchen utensils
- don't share towels or toys with someone who has a cold
For more advice, head to the NHS England site here.
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