The common cold is a persistent and recurring viral infection responsible for bringing congestion, runny nose, and sneezing to people around the globe. In the United States, the average adult will get two to four colds per year and young children average six to eight colds a year, according to the American Lung Association (1). And in the United Kingdom, colds and flu began causing more work absences than COVID-19 in 2022 (2).
While there is no cure for the common cold, the quality of the air you breathe affects how often you get sick. Research also shows that once you have a cold, the air pollution can have a significant effect on the severity of your symptoms.
The most frequent cause: Rhinovirus
A variety of viruses can cause a cold but most often it is a rhinovirus, which is among the smallest in size of all viruses. A rhinovirus is typically 0.03 microns in diameter, making it an ultrafine particle (those smaller than 0.1 microns in diameter). Cold viruses are spread through the air and by contact with surfaces, objects and people.
The virus thrives once it makes contact with the sinuses, lungs or other respiratory-system tissue. Symptoms begin to appear in less than 24 hours. The most severe symptoms of a common cold often occur with those who have asthma or other respiratory illnesses. Rhinoviruses can trigger acute asthma attacks. Also, those with compromised immune systems have an elevated risk of experiencing the most severe symptoms of the common cold.
Steps to reduce your chances of getting sick
There is no vaccine for the common cold. Health agencies recommend a few simple steps to reduce your risk of getting colds and to lessen cold symptoms, especially during the cold season months of September through May:
- Wash:Washing your hands frequently with soap and water will help reduce the risk of getting a cold by destroying the virus you have picked up from somewhere or someone.
- Avoid touching:Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose with your hands. This is especially true if you have been around someone who is sick.
- Keep your distance:Keep a safe distance from people who are already sick with a cold. This advice also applies if you are the one who is sick – you can help prevent others getting sick by keeping a respectful distance.
- Keep the air clean:An air purifier can be an important tool in fighting the spread of the common cold at home, says environmental scientist Ted Myatt at the University of Rhode Island (3). In an article in CNN Health, Myatt noted that millions of flu particles linger in a typical home during cold and flu season. “Air purifiers can remove the smallest microbes in the air,” said Myatt, “reducing harmful airborne germs that not only include cold and flu viruses but also dust, pollen, mold spores, pet dander and smoke particles.”
Ordinary HEPA air purifiers are incapable of offering protection against particles as small as the rhinovirus. IQAir’s HyperHEPA filtration technology, however, excels at filtering ultrafine particles. HyperHEPA technology is certified and proven to filter particles as small as 0.003 microns in diameter – 10 times smaller than the rhinovirus.
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Steps to reduce the severity of cold symptoms
- Rest and fluids:Once you have a cold, treating your symptoms can make a significant difference in how long you are sick and how much you suffer. Lots of rest and drinking fluids will help you feel comfortable.
- Breathe clean air:If you already have a cold, breathing polluted air can make you feel much worse, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (4). Both the cold virus and airborne pollutants prompt the body’s cells to release cytokines – proteins that can initiate an inflammatory response. Cytokines also trigger the release of fluids (such as mucus), swelling and other cold symptoms.
Experts also recommend using a humidifier indoors during cold season, because cold viruses thrive in dry air. Dry air can also aggravate the symptoms of a cold, especially a stuffy nose and scratchy throat, according to the Mayo Clinic (5).