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You wake up feeling like a million bucks but by the time you go to bed that night, you’re more tired than usual and your nose is a bit stuffy.
“Just allergies,” you think to yourself but when your alarm goes off the next morning, you feel like that piece of chewed gum that gets stuck on the bottom of your shoe.
Yup, you’ve got a cold.
Well, you might wonder how long you can expect to be sick…
You may even be concerned about spreading your germs and wonder how long you’ll be contagious…
And most importantly, you’d probably like to know how to kick the common cold and feel better quick.
But first, let’s take a look at what symptoms to look for with a cold and how to tell it apart from the flu…
Cold vs. Flu, which one is it?
Both colds and flu can have similar symptoms yet they’re caused by completely different viruses. While colds are most commonly the result of rhinoviruses (though there can be other culprits), the flu is caused by influenza viruses.
Symptoms that are common to both are:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Body aches
However, what really sets them apart is the severity of the symptoms. For example, with a cold, you might get a low-grade fever but the flu could cause it to shoot sky-high. A cold also usually comes on more gradually too while the flu can hit you between one hour and the next.
If you’re not sure which one you have, your doctor can do a simple nasal swab to rule out flu.
What symptoms to expect
Once you’ve determined that you’re dealing with a cold, you can expect to deal with those symptoms for a minimum of a few days to a week although some colds can hang on for longer. If you smoke, you’re more likely to suffer longer.
Although most people feel better after approximately 10 days, the cough is usually the last symptom to leave.
If you’re an adult and have any of the following issues, see a doctor (the rules are different for kids):
- Fever over 101.3° F (38.5° C)
- Fever that lasts longer than five days or comes back after you’ve been fever-free
- Shortness of breath
- Symptoms that are severe like a sore throat, headache or sinus pain
You may also worry as your cold progresses and the discharge from your nose changes color and becomes thicker and greener. However, this is just its normal course and not the sign of a bacterial infection.
When are you contagious?
No one wants to be “that” person who takes a cold with them to school, work, church or wherever. So, once you realize you’re infected, you’d probably like to know whether or not you’re contagious and how to keep from spreading it to your co-workers, friends and loved ones.
Here’s what you need to know…
As a rule of thumb, adults are contagious and able to transmit a cold to others around them one day prior to the first symptoms and up to five days after. For babies and kids, that timeframe is extended to seven days or even longer.
Keep in mind, though, that it can vary from person to person and people who are in poor health or have a compromised immune system get infected more easily, so you should take extra precautions. And, children are both more likely to catch and more likely to pass on a cold.
Keeping it from spreading
You’re most likely to spread a cold on your hands.
That’s because when you blow your nose, wipe your eyes or even just touch your face, the virus attaches to your hands and is transmitted to whatever or whoever you touch next.
If you blow your nose and then pick up the phone, the next person to use it just got more than they bargained for. If you scratch your chin and then open the front door, the next person to turn the handle may catch your cold.
This makes hand-washing the most effective way to avoid spreading or even catching a cold. Hand sanitizers are the next best thing when you’re not close to a sink.
You can also spread a cold by coughing or sneezing. Ideally, you should cough or sneeze into a tissue but if you don’t have one, do it into your shoulder, the bend of your arm, or the neckline of your shirt. What you never want to do is sneeze into your hand and then touch something or someone else.
At the first sign of sickness, make it a point to stay at least six feet away from others and avoid contact like hugging, kissing or shaking hands. And, never share towels, glasses, utensils or telephones.
These same precautions should be taken to avoid giving or getting the flu.
Kicking a cold with Zinc
Now that you know how to spot a cold and how to keep from giving it to the people around you, let’s talk about what you really want to know…
How to feel better fast!
And luckily, there is something that’s proven to work – zinc acetate lozenges.
In fact, researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland found that people who took zinc acetate lozenges recovered from colds three times faster than people who didn’t take them!
Their study showed that 70 percent of cold sufferers who took zinc lozenges recovered by the fifth day of their cold compared to only 27 percent of cold sufferers who took a placebo.
How much zinc is enough?
In the study, participants took 80 to 92 mg/day – far higher than the recommended daily zinc intake of 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women.
So, the next time you feel like you’re coming down with a cold, watch for worsening symptoms that could be a sign that it’s actually the flu instead, wash your hands regularly and take the other steps we talked about to keep from spreading it to those around you and pick up a package of zinc lozenges – they could be exactly what you need to feel better fast.