The Common Cold and How to Treat It
“THERE is just one way to treat a cold, and that is with contempt.” So declared Sir William Osler, widely famed Canadian physician of a previous generation.
Apparently his opinion is shared by certain other physicians of today, for when asked what they did when they had a cold, some variously replied: “I did nothing. Colds are usually best ignored.” “I blew my nose on a necessary basis.” However, others said they took aspirin or antihistamines.
Just what is the common cold? A medical authority on the subject states that it is “a short mild illness in which the main local symptoms are found in the upper respiratory tract and in which nasal symptoms predominate.” In other words, a cold usually does not last long, is generally no cause for serious concern, and makes itself felt in a number of ways: by a sore throat, a stuffed or running nose, by sneezing or coughing, perhaps a headache and a general feeling of discomfort, and at times is accompanied by a slight fever. It appears that women are more likely to catch a cold than are men.
The common cold is well named, for nearly everyone has at one time or another suffered from it, it being found among all peoples and on all continents. Colds, we are told, annually cost Americans some $5,000,000,000 in medication, doctors’ fees and work-days lost; they account for more than half of school- and work-days lost because of illness.
However, one of England’s leading authorities on the common cold, Sir Christopher Andrewes, jests that such statistics are to be taken with a grain of salt. Why so? Because colds often serve as a convenient excuse for staying home from school and work, especially if one wants to use up the days one is annually allowed for sick leave.
Trying to Get at the Cause
Many indeed are the days and years, the dollars, yens and pounds spent by medical researchers in trying to get at the cause of the common cold and to find a remedy for it. In recent years the blame has been put on viruses rather than on any bacteria. But the latter, when present, may bring on a second stage.
What is a virus? Without getting technical, it is something like a bacteria except that it is much, much smaller. In fact, most of them are so small that they cannot be seen except with the aid of an electron microscope, which is able to magnify things ten thousand times and more. Viruses are also different from bacteria in that they are parasites. They can exist only within a living cell as a host. When a virus enters a cell, it causes the cell to cease its normal functions and to begin producing other virus particles until the cell bursts and the viruses spill out to attack other cells. They deserve their name, which means poison. Viruses were known to cause such diseases as polio, measles and influenza before anyone ever saw one and before they were blamed for causing the common cold. It is now known that there are upward of a hundred different viruses that can cause the common cold, the rhinovirus being the most widespread of them. However, in the plant world there are such things as “friendly viruses,” which account for certain characteristics in various plants.
Are There Other Factors?
According to leading British researchers, in the vast majority of cases viruses alone do not cause one to get the common cold; usually other factors are involved. For example, doctors and nurses may be exposed to cold viruses from morning to night, day in and day out and never get a cold, indicating that merely being exposed to cold viruses will not necessarily cause one to get a cold.
There usually is something that makes the cells of the body susceptible to the virus. In fact, a number of factors have been implicated—air pollution; sudden changes in the weather from hot to cold or from dry to wet; physical fatigue and lack of sleep, also emotional upsets; dietary indiscretions; in fact, a general run-down condition. Thus one surgeon stated that only when he lets himself get down do viruses overcome his resistance to them.
So it would seem that unless you yourself are run down you need not fear if someone sneezes or coughs in your presence. But since you may be in the presence of some who are run down or otherwise susceptible, or who fear catching a cold, it would be best to exercise care when you yourself have a cold.
One of America’s foremost nutritionists in particular implicates diet as a cause of the common cold. He holds that colds are much more common in those who indulge in too much rich food, such as sweets, starches and proteins. In a similar vein, another physician blames colds on consuming too much sugars and fats, and not enough of such foods as fruits, vegetables and products made from whole grains.
Much to the same effect are the claims of a popular writer on medical subjects that colds are chiefly due to eating chocolate and other sticky sweets. These, he holds, irritate the mucous membranes of the throat and make it susceptible to infection by any number of viruses that can cause common colds. For this reason he puts the chief blame on the myxovirus rather than on the rhinovirus strains, as is usually done.
Other researchers claim to have found that in some persons drinking a lot of coffee can precipitate colds; that indulging too freely in alcoholic beverages, using a lot of table salt, and even drinking too freely of milk (by persons allergic to milk), can bring on a cold. And, of course, cigarette smoking looms up as an important factor; cigarette smokers average 65 percent more colds than do nonsmokers.
What to Do About It
Many are the suggestions offered by physicians and others as to what to do about a cold. Authorities are practically unanimous in holding that antibiotics do not affect a cold and may well harm you. For relief from its symptoms, aspirin may make you feel more comfortable and other medication may help you to breathe more freely, but they do not cure your cold and they do have side effects with which you may have to reckon.
The thing to do is to cooperate with the many built-in factors that the body has to protect itself from injurious viruses. If these are in good condition, they will most likely fight off most of the ordinary cold viruses. So common sense would indicate slowing down—get more rest, go to bed early, avoid undue stress and excitement and perhaps cut down on your eating.
But does not an oft-quoted adage say: “Feed a cold and starve a fever”? Yes, it does, but, according to one authority, it should be: “IF you feed a cold, you will have to starve a fever,” and that is quite a different opinion! So he recommends a bland diet that consists of fruit and vegetable juices and vegetable soups that do not contain meat or seasonings.
Anything that helps to build up the body’s resistance helps to overcome cold symptoms and helps the body in its fight against the cold virus. Thus, some have found the manipulative therapies, such as chiropractic, osteopathy and massage, to be helpful. Others swear by such aids as hot baths, especially hot foot baths (really hot!), and sweat or sauna baths and enemas. Others, again, including some physicians, say that they get relief from the common cold by means of a hot “toddy,” a hot lemonade to which whiskey has been added. There is a saying that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison,” and this could well be so because of differences in genetic patterns. The saying can apply to selecting a means of dealing with the common cold.
What about the highly publicized value of vitamin C in treating the common cold? There is no question about vitamin C as being essential for normal body function, preferably in its natural state, as in orange, grapefruit or tomato juice, or in the form of rose hips or acerola berries. But as to whether large quantities of synthetic vitamin C will cure your common cold, this is a controversial subject. Some adverse effects from large doses have been reported in certain persons, even as others report being greatly helped thereby.
And not to be overlooked as to curing the common cold is another factor, one also implicated in causing this ailment, and that is our emotions. One popular newspaper writer suffered with colds all her life, until she found relief by going to a psychoanalyst who revealed her hidden tensions. She was so impressed that she wrote a book on the subject. But, as Dr. Karl Menninger noted, it is not necessary to go to a psychoanalyst to learn the truth about oneself.
Going to God’s Word and being honest with oneself can help one to discover whether it is an emotional conflict that is causing one to have a cold. And heeding the Bible’s advice in such matters can help one physically as well as spiritually. As we read: “Low spirits sap a man’s strength.”—Prov. 17:22, The New English Bible.
Knowing something about what causes a cold and what you can do to relieve it should also help you to prevent a cold. As one physician put it: “Sleep well, eat well, avoid getting chilled. Take care of yourself, and you’ll rarely catch cold.” Pretty good advice.