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Managing common cold and cough

Dr. M. R. Krishnamurthy is a primary care physician with 42 years of experience. After completing his MBBS, he has worked in the UK and Canada.

In the last article of the series, let us discuss the most common problem that doctors see all over the world in their clinics and hospitals - the common cold.

Most common cause of cough and colds that makes patients miserable, is a viral infection which has no cure. It is caused by literally hundreds of viruses that differ from each other slightly, which fools our immune system. It is highly contagious and spreads through the air. All too often, patients say that they ate something (like ice cream or banana) or drank some cold juice or something from the fridge and ‘immediately’ they developed a sore throat. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Unfortunately, some doctors also help to propagate the myth. It is a totally self-limiting disease and doesn’t need any antibiotics. Simple decongestants and paracetamol for fever takes care of the problem.

Cough may require treatment with codeine or similar cough syrups. Steam inhalation helps clear the sinuses and, salt water gargling helps soothe the throat and kill the viruses, especially in the early stages of the disease. Covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing prevents the spread of the disease. Frequent hand washing and avoiding shaking hands also helps prevent spread the infection. Our old fashioned ‘namaste’, with folded hands, is best recommended as a form of greeting. Japanese wear surgical masks to let people know they have a cold so that they can keep a safe distance, usually one meter. Children can develop ear infection as a complication of the common cold and may require further treatment. People with a deviated nasal septum (which can narrow the air passages in the nose), can develop sinusitis; in people with asthma or who smoke, the infection can go into the lungs and may require further treatment.

All the above symptoms except fever, can also be present in people who suffer from allergies. With increasing pollution levels from industries and automobiles, it is a growing problem with no quick fixes. Indoor home pollution from agarbatties, samrani and cigarettes must be taken into account if a person is particularly sensitive to it. The treatment is a long acting, non-sedating anti histamine. This kind of cough is not contagious. Any cough lasting more than a week should be assessed by a doctor to rule out more serious causes (sometimes a drug enalapril, used to treat high blood pressure, can also cause a dry cough)

This article was originally published in magazine in the month of February, 2019.

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