In August’s edition of Energy we discussed seasonal flu and mentioned the differences between flu and a common cold. Over the coming winter months, plenty of us will be unlucky enough to experience cold symptoms and will wish that science had finally come up with a “cure for the common cold.
What can we do to try and avoid catching a cold and how can we ease the symptoms if we do get infected?
The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that will get better of its own accord. A cold can cause various symptoms including a runny nose and sneezing, a cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and sometimes a fever and headache. When you have a cold you can often also feel generally run down and tired.
You can’t guarantee to never catch a cold but by looking after yourself you can boost your immune system that will help to lessen your vulnerability.
Eating a healthy diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables as well as drinking plenty of fluids (not alcohol) will help. If you are working shifts on or offshore or having too many late nights when onshore you can become tired and put your immune system under strain.
In the winter months wrap up and keep warm – now is not the time to go for a night out wearing a tee-shirt and no jacket, nor should you skimp on warm layers of clothing offshore.
Stress can weaken your immune system and your GP can advise you on ways to relax such as taking exercise, reading, yoga and meditation. If your stress is severe then speak to your GP or a psychotherapist for expert advice.
There are more than 200 different viruses that can lead to the symptoms of a common cold, which explains why there is currently no vaccination to prevent an infection.
Although you can’t cure a common cold you can help ease the symptoms while you wait for the cold to pass, which usually takes between one or two weeks.
PAINKILLERS: Aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol can be used but you must make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and check that you don’t have any medical conditions that contra-indicate their use.
OVER THE COUNTER MEDICATIONS: There are countless cold remedies available at chemists but there is very little evidence that they are effective. However, some of the cold remedies that come in the form of a warm drink can feel soothing and comforting.
Decongestants can have some short term effect but you shouldn’t use them for longer than recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions. If you are already taking paracetamol or aspirin you should check the ingredients of your over the counter cold remedy because some contain these painkillers and you don’t want to end up taking too high a dosage.
STEAM INHALATION: This well-known remedy for clearing your head may well prove helpful. You just need to sit with your head over a bowl of hot water with a towel over your head. Breathe deeply and keep your eyes closed. You could also try adding eucalyptus or camphor to the water.
SAUNA: Many offshore installations now have saunas and making use of this facility could help ease your symptoms.
FLUIDS: Make sure you drink plenty of fluids as this will help to replace the fluids you may have lost due to a runny nose or profuse sweating.
GARGLING WITH SALT WATER: If you have a sore throat then gargling with salt water can help.
DECONGESTANTS: You can take decongestants by mouth or by using a nasal spray. They can help to reduce any swelling in your nose and ease breathing.
Some people consider that various complementary therapies can help prevent you from catching a cold or lessen the symptoms if you do. Garlic, vitamin C supplements or echinacea are often cited but there is no conclusive evidence that they are efficacious.
You could always have a chat with the medic on your installation and ask for advice on what over the counter cold medications they consider effective.
If you have a common cold then remember that it’s contagious and you should try not to infect your family, friends and off and onshore colleagues.
The viruses that cause colds can survive for a limited time in droplets when you cough or sneeze, so use a tissue and dispose of it immediately. Make sure that you wash your hands regularly as the cold virus can be transferred to objects such as door handles or telephones.
Each year most people will catch a cold between two and four times and if it happens to you – look after yourself, try not to infect those around you and be comforted that it won’t last for long.
Dr Rosemary Fieldsend is a remote medical services doctor at occupational health specialist Abermed