That “achy, coughing, stuffy so you can’t breathe” feeling that comes around generally at this time of year is annoying, but normally harmless, according to Andrew Crocker, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Gerontology specialist.

A cold is usually harmless, though it may not feel that way.  

Although more than 200 viruses can cause a common cold, the rhinovirus is the most common culprit and it is highly contagious.

The common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat.  

The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks.  

But it also spreads by contact with someone who has a cold or by sharing objects.

Because of the sheer number of viruses that may be responsible for the cold, symptoms may vary greatly.  

Symptoms usually appear two to three days after contact and may include: mucous buildup in the nose causing difficulty breathing, swelling of the sinuses, sneezing, sore throat, cough and headache.

During a cold, you generally will not have a high fever and you are also unlikely to experience significant fatigue.  

Complications associated with your cold may include ear infection, wheezing, sinusitis and/or other infections, including but not limited to strep throat, pneumonia, and bronchitis.  

These infections need to be treated by a health care provider.

There is no cure for the common cold and antibiotics are of no use against viruses, according to Crocker.  

Over-the counter medicines will not cure a common cold or make it go away any sooner and most have some potential side effects.

Some helpful tips to make you more comfortable during a cold include:

• Plenty of fluids, such as water, juice and warm soup, help replace fluids lost during mucus production or fever.  Avoid alcohol and caffeine which can cause dehydration.

• Chicken soup will help with some immune system functions, and it temporarily speeds up the movement of mucus through the nose, helping relieve congestion and limiting the time viruses are in contact with the nasal lining.

• Stay home and get rest if you have a fever or a bad cough, or are drowsy from medications.  This offers the opportunity to rest as well as reduces the chances to infect others.

• Soothe the throat by gargling with warm salt water.

• Saline spray or nasal drops help relieve nasal congestion and can be bought over-the-counter.

Most people recover from a common cold in about a week or two.  

If symptoms do not improve, then a trip to the health provider may be necessary.

You should also see your health provider if you develop a fever of 102 degrees or higher accompanied by achiness and fatigue; fever accompanied by sweating, chills and a cough with colored phlegm; significantly swollen glands and/or severe sinus pain.

No vaccine has been developed for the common cold and results of studies using complementary methods to prevent a cold such as zinc, vitamin C and Echinacea are inclusive at this time, Crocker said.

However, some common-sense precautions to take to slow the spread of cold viruses include:

• Wash your hands with warm water and soap.  Carry a bottle of alcohol-based hand rub containing at least 60 percent alcohol for times when soap and water are not available-these gels kill most germs.

• Keep kitchen and bathroom countertops clean, especially when someone in your family has a common cold.

• Sneeze or cough into the bend of your elbow to cover your mouth without using your hands.

• Do NOT share drinking glasses or utensils with others.

• Avoid close, prolonged contact with anyone that has a cold.

More information on fighting the common cold is provided by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health:  http://www3.niaid.hih.gov/topics/commoncold

Rita M. Hodges is the Ellis County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Contact Rita at 972-825-5175 or rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu. Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.  The Texas A & M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.