Cold common

around the tonsils and adenoids can trap these germs, where they are then destroyed by the immune system.

If a child is not so healthy, the mucous membranes in the nose will either be too thick (causing a stuffy nose and congested throat) or too thin (causing a runny nose). The germs then will not be cleared away. Once the viruses enter the nose, they attach themselves to the cells found there. In response, the body's immune system swings into action. Injured cells in the nose and throat release chemicals called prostaglandins, which trigger inflammation and attract infection-fighting white blood cells. The throat will begin to feel scratchy and swollen.

Tiny blood vessels stretch, which allows spaces to open up and specialized white cells to enter. Body temperature rises, and histamine is released. This steps up the production of mucus in the nose, trapping and removing viral particles. The nose starts to run. As the nose and throat stimulate the extra mucus production, it irritates the throat and triggers a cough. Cold viruses are also responsible for congestion in the sinuses.

All of this activity is the underlying cause of the cold symptoms. By the time a child starts feeling sick, the body has already been fighting the invader for a day or two. When children are in the process of catching a cold, they probably feel fine. It is not until they are actually getting better that they feel sick.

In order to break through the body's defenses to cause a cold, viruses must attack in huge numbers. Most of the time, a brief encounter with a sick stranger will not cause disease, even if a child sits in a doctor's office filled with sick patients for 10 or 20 minutes.

On the other hand, going to school all day in a building filled with children who have colds could carry a risk. Traveling on a plane carrying sick passengers is an even bigger risk, since the recirculated air in a pressurized cabin evenly distributes viruses to everyone while drying out mucous membranes that would normally trap viruses.

Symptoms

A stuffy congested nose, sneezing, sore scratchy throat, cough, headache, runny eyes, and sometimes a low fever. Viruses that attack the lower respiratory tract (the windpipe, bronchial tubes, and lungs) are more serious, but less common; these viruses are responsible for pneumonia and bronchitis.

Because the symptoms are actually caused by the body's attempt at healing itself, there are times when it may be best to let the body handle itself. For example, it may be best to let a fever below 101.5°F burn itself out, since this type of fever will also help the body burn up viruses and toxins. However, if the child with a low fever is uncomfortable, it makes sense to try to lower the body's temperature.

Treatment

There is no treatment that will cure a cold. Symptoms may be treated by a wide variety of over-the-counter medications and many different types of home remedies. While the use of vitamin C to treat colds is still controversial, several well-controlled studies demonstrate that it can lessen the severity of a cold's symptoms and duration. In any case, vitamin C is not toxic and there is no harm in giving a child an extra dose, although megadoses should be avoided. Other studies have shown that zinc lozenges can shorten the duration of symptoms.

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