Contrary to what you may have been taught, exposing the body to outside cold temperatures while not wearing a hat or coat will not cause a cold.Colds are caused by viruses, which can be transferred from one person to another by direct or indirect contact. Direct contact occurs when an infected individual sneezes or coughs without using a tissue or other covering for his mouth or nose. An unsuspecting healthy person then inhales the cold virus nasally or orally. Indirect contact occurs when the infected person rubs his nose or coughs into his hand, then transfers the cold germs to a healthy person by shaking hands or touching an object such as a door knob or computer keyboard, etc. The healthy person touches the same object, then touches her nose or mouth, thus introducing the virus into her body.
Cold viruses are quite infectious, especially during the winter months when individuals are in close quarters such as schools, dorms and daycare. Exposure to sick individuals increases significantly because of these circumstances.
The usual course of a cold begins within a few days of exposure to an infected individual. Stuffy nose, sneezing, mild fever, sore throat, slightly swollen glands, cough and changes in behavior are the usual symptoms. Colds usually last only five to ten days. The usual course of nasal discharge begins as clear and watery. About day two to three of the cold, the nasal discharge becomes thicker and changes color to white/yellow or even green. As the cold resolves, the nasal discharge becomes clear and then dries.
Coughing is usually worse at night, due to post-nasal drip. If your child develops a constant cough throughout the day, has a fever lasting more than 48 hours, has difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, has bluing lips or bluing nail beds, ear pain, excessive sleepiness or crankiness, contact your health care provider immediately. You may need an appointment so your provider can determine if there are other concerns or issues stemming from the cold virus.
Older children may develop a sinus infection after ten days of a cold that does not improve. Nasal secretions will be thick yellow/green. Fever occurs after ten days of the upper respiratory illness, coughing continues, a headache may be present, along with dark circles under the eyes and possibly bad breath. Your primary care provider should evaluate your child, and may prescribe antibiotics along with other comfort measures.
There is no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections, and should not be used to treat a viral illness such as a cold. Bacteria have become more resistant to certain antibiotics because of inappropriate and overprescribing for illnesses that don’t respond to antibiotics.