Prevention preferred to catching cold

A reader emailed to tell me that he had been to see his insurance agent to discuss his options for his health coverage for the coming year.

“During the conversation, my agent wheezed a bit and blew into her hankie. The next morning I awoke with a very sore throat and the worst cold that I have ever had,” he said.

His email continued with several questions about the common cold that I will attempt to answer, but first must say that there is a bit of irony about your health being jeopardized by talking about insuring it. His major point was that the agent should have stayed home.

“When I meet with friends I will plead with them that if they catch cold to please completely isolate themselves from all others until they have recovered,” he wrote.

Most of us would agree, however, that’s not always feasible for a multitude of reasons, no sick leave benefits, needing to shop for groceries or cold remedies, needing to carry on parenting responsibilities, the list of why one often can’t stay home is endless.

But, there are lots of things one can do, both to prevent spreading the infection and prevent getting one.

First off the facts: Colds are minor infections of the nose and throat caused by more than 200 different viruses. The American Lung Association explains, “Rhinovirus is the most common cause, accounting for 10 to 40 percent of colds. Other common cold viruses include coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).”

The ALA says that on average an adult will get two to four colds per year, and children will suffer from six to eight of them. In the U.S., colds account for more doctor visits than any other condition even though we all know there is little to be done for a virus infection.

One will start to show symptoms two to three days after coming in contact with an infected person. So it’s conceivable that our reader may have already been incubating a cold when he saw his agent.

You’ve heard it said that a cold will last for a week or seven days whichever comes first. But, symptoms can subside after a two or three days or linger for two or three weeks depending on your immune system. Children, the elderly and those in poor health may be in the latter category.

“Colds are highly contagious,” the ALA says. “They most often spread when droplets of fluid that contain a cold virus are transferred by touch. These droplets may also be inhaled. Colds are extremely difficult to prevent entirely.”

Bear in mind that the virus may be incubating for about 24 hours before symptoms occur so it can be hard to figure out who’s contagious. Be sure to wash your hands after touching someone else and before you touch your nose, eyes or mouth. If soap and water isn’t handy, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Don’t share towels, eating utensils, napkins and especially not toothbrushes. Clean toys, computers and mouses, phones, remotes, door knobs and anything else an infected person touches with either hot soapy water or alcohol-based cleaners. Use those wipes the grocery stores provide to clean the shopping carts every time you go for groceries.

Drink plenty of fluids and be sure to eat nutritionally well-balanced meals to aid your immune system. Get exercise and plenty of sleep. Managing your stress can help you avoid getting a cold.

“Do not inflict your cold on others! Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, then throw the tissue away and wash your hands,” The ALA says. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze and cough into the bend of your elbow.

If you have a cold, over-the-counter medicines may work well for alleviating symptoms, but please read the labels carefully as some of them may interfere with other medications you’re already taking. Talk to your healthcare professional or pharmacist before choosing an antihistamine or decongestant particularly if you’re being treated for high blood pressure or thyroid disease.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.