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Is COVID-19 cold similar to the common cold?

Dr. Rajib Paul

MD, Senior Consultant Physician AND Intensivist

4 min read

Old adage advocates that the common cold could be treated with a week of remedies or one can wait seven days for the symptoms to disappear. Many may be surprised to learn that there is no specific medicine to overcome the common cold virus. There are over 100 different types of cold viruses but the most common is the rhinovirus.

The studies on vitamin C have not shown clear evidence that they work, unless U are an adventure sportsman doing a marathon in the sub-Arctic region.

Managing a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, tiredness and general discomfort is a challenge that even the world’s best athletes cannot conquer.

How Common is a Common Cold?

Cold is quite common. Almost everyone has cold twice a year in India, which is at least 40-50% of new cases.

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Cold is one the common reasons children miss school in India. Among preschool children, the rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, parainfluenza virus and adenovirus are common causes.

Kids less than six years of age have an average of six to eight colds per year and older kids and adults have two-four per year. Most people have symptoms for 10 days but smokers have about three additional days of symptoms.

Some of these other viruses may lead to different illnesses along with a cold-bronchiolitis or inflammation of the small air tubes by the respiratory syncytial virus or mouth ulcers with fever from the Coxsackie A virus.

Cold is quite common. Almost everyone has cold twice a year in India, which is at least 40-50% of new cases.

How intense can be the virus?

Not everyone with a cold can take it easy. People with health issues like diabetes or on regular medication may possess decreased immunity and should be careful to watch out for a fever that does not decrease or a cough with a lot of phlegm. These are signs of a secondary infection by bacteria in the lungs.

Once infected, the body sends white blood cells to defend it. The green colour of the secretions and phlegm is not due to bacteria but due to enzymes in the white blood cells.

Immunity is generated once a person has a cold but given the number of different varieties of each virus this does not, help much. Colds occur more in winters but they can occur at any time of the year. The infection spreads by hand contact or by inhaling droplets with the virus when someone coughs. The spread of the virus from an infected person to the hands of another person occurs within ten seconds.

At times, the cold can cause other problems like ear infections, asthma and a worsening of the sinus infection. Colds can also resemble other conditions like allergic rhinitis, bacterial tonsillitis or pertussis and these need different treatment.

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How to Manage Common Cold?

Symptom relief is usually adequate for managing a cold. Sometimes a special nasal inhaler may help decrease a runny nose and sneezing. Use of an antihistamine with a decongestant can also help but watch out for side effects like drowsiness and dryness of the eyes, nose and mouth. Generally, a cough is self-limited and should not need any medications. Nasal decongestants should be used for only two-three days since overuse leads to paradoxical increase in nasal congestion.

Zinc has shown some benefit in decreasing the duration of symptoms and severity but take UR doctors opinion first. A lot of research into other medications is ongoing such as interferon and other herbal products. Multiple prevention strategies have been tested and among other things, exercise as well as gargling with water may decrease cold symptoms.

We have much to do before we can say that the common cold has been conquered. Hopefully, we will have better ways to deal with the runny nose, fever and sneezing.

Common Cold Vs COVID-19 Symptoms

Common Cold COVID-19
No tiredness and muscle aches Tiredness and muscle aches are important symptoms
Body temperature does not rise Body temperature rises
Wet cough Dry cough
No nausea and vomiting Accompanied by nausea and vomiting
Symptoms begin to appear in 1-3 days Symptoms begin to appear in 2-14 days
Loss of taste and smell is rare Loss of taste and smell is common
There is no breathlessness in common cold Cough can be associated with breathlessness in COVID-19