My adored English teacher in primary school inspired most of us in her class to become fascinated with poetry. I remember one particular poem “The Common Cold” written by A.P Herbert that she taught us, and I always take my cue from it while speaking to my patients and their caregivers. So here goes….
The Common Cold, the Common Cold
The doctors really must be told
It’s really time that they controlled
The horrors of the Common Cold.
It’s quite true that colds and coughs are humdrum to us doctors. They arrive when the weather conditions allow viruses to thrive, and will continue to spread as long as there is going to be clustering and companionship. Watching the patterned episodes does make a physician think that it’s not much of a hassle. Personally, only after I became a parent could I see how a blocked nose ( nothing to doctors) could make a child out of sorts, uncomfortable and cranky. We do take charge though, when we see a change in the scenario, like when the common cold becomes the flu.
I love the doctors – they are dears;
But must they spend such years and years
Investigating such a lot
Of illnesses which no one’s got?
When everybody, young and old
Is frantic with the Common Cold
And I will eat my only hat
If they know anything of that
I think an interlude of common cold is tackled very well by the body’s natural defences and we are recharged after rest and TLC. This does hurt the wee little ego we doctors manage to develop after our long abiding study of the human body, that the body can take care of itself. But I have to contradict the poet a bit here. Research in the medical field is slow and tedious and these days we make statements only based on clear sustained evidence.
- For instance, we know that warm water, juice, clear broth ,ginger teas or warm lemon water with honey help loosen secretions in the air passages and prevent dehydration. That’s why they bring relief.
- The age old chicken soup remedy definitely works. It acts by inhibiting the movement of “neutrophils” (immune system cells) that participate in the body’s explosive defensive response. Second, it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus secretions, helping relieve congestion and shortens the time viruses are in contact with the nose lining. Chicken soup also improves the function of protective cilia, the tiny hair like projections in the nose that prevent contagions from entering the body.
- Several over the counter medications give symptomatic relief and are therefore listed as cures. For example the popular Vicks VapoRub doesn’t relieve nasal congestion. But the strong menthol odour of VapoRub tricks your brain. As a result, you feel like you’re breathing through an unclogged nose.
- There is also a lot of speculation over the role of vitamin C in cold. One proven effect of vitamin C is in preventing colds among people engaged in extreme physical exercise in extremely cold conditions. Although for the average child who suffers about 28 days of cold illness a year, taking daily high-dose vitamin C would still mean 24 days of cold illness.
But our patients aren’t always happy to pay a consultation fee to hear us telling them to relax, and we are deemed ineffective.