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The common cold virus is easily spread. Here are answers to basic questions about the common cold.

1. What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

Although the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. Because they have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart. But generally, cold symptoms are much milder than flu.

Common cold symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Mild fever

The flu, on the other hand, often causes higher fever, chills, body aches-=, and fatigue.

2. Why isn't there a cold vaccine?

The common cold can be caused by nearly 250 different viruses. It's just too difficult for scientists to prepare a vaccine that protects against all of the cold viruses. Also, there's less need for a cold vaccine. Colds are minor infections of the throat, nose, and sinuses. Colds generally come and go with no serious complications. You're miserable for a few days, then it's over.

3. Could my cold symptoms actually be allergies?

If you are sniffling, but not achy or feverish, you may very well have allergies. Also, if your symptoms last longer than two weeks, and you also have red, itchy eyes, the evidence points to allergies. However, it's often difficult to tell the difference between a cold and allergies, because people with allergies and asthma are more likely to get colds. They may already have inflamed and irritated lungs, so they are less able to fight off a cold virus.

4. What's the best treatment for a cold?

There is no cure for the common cold. The most important thing you can do is drink a lot of fluids to keep your body hydrated. This will help prevent another infection from setting in. Avoid drinks like coffee, tea, and colas with caffeine. They may rob your system of fluids. As for eating, follow your appetite. If you're not really hungry, try eating simple foods like white rice or broth.

Chicken soup is comforting, plus the steam helps break up nasal congestion. Ginger seems to settle an upset stomach. A hot toddy may help you sleep, but beware of mixing alcohol with other cold remedies.

Over-the-counter cold medicines can offer relief from aches and fever. However, doctors no longer believe in suppressing low-grade fever except in very young and very old people, or people with certain medical conditions such as heart or lung disease. Low-grade fever helps the body fight off infection by suppressing the growth of viruses or bacteria and by activating the immune system.

  • Aspirin. Young people and children should not take aspirin because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.
  • Decongestants can help make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose. Do not use nasal decongestants for more than three to five days. Use beyond 3-5 days causes swelling in the nasal passages and aggravates symptoms.
  • Saline nasal sprays can also open breathing passages and may be used freely.
  • Cough preparations are not hugely effective. For minor coughs, water and fruit juices probably help the most. The FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under age 4.
  • Gargling with salt water can help relieve a sore throat.