DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My friend and I have an ongoing discussion about how we catch colds. I believe the only way is by being exposed to a germ. My friend agrees, but also says you can become chilled, and that results in a cold. Please settle this once and for all. — L.G.
ANSWER: The only way to catch a cold is to meet up with a cold virus. But let’s kick this around a little while it lies there quivering.
Rhinoviruses are responsible for many colds. This virus is passed from one person to another most often via the hands and fingers. An infected person invariably will have virus on his or her hands and fingers. If that person touches another person’s hands or fingers, the virus is transferred. All the second person has to do is touch his or her nose or eyes and the virus has found a new home. (The drainage channel for tears siphons viruses into the nose.) It’s also possible to spread a cold through sneezing or coughing, but that’s a secondary route.
Many colds are preceded by a body chill. That’s part of the infection symptoms, and that might be what your friend refers to.
Once a virus lands in a person’s nose, the time till the development of cold symptoms is short — eight to 12 hours. Runny nose, nasal stuffiness, scratchy throat, cough and sneezing are typical symptoms. They peak in 48 hours and are gone in about one week. A person is most contagious during the first three days of symptoms, when nasal discharge is at high volume and when it contains the most viruses.
If by “chilling” your friend means being in a cold blast of air or getting your feet wet in frigid weather and shivering as a result, she has a slight point. That kind of chilling constricts the nose’s blood vessels and decreases mucus production. It might, therefore, permit cold viruses to mount a more effective attack and can contribute to the ease of catching a cold. All the same, without the virus there is no cold.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Can you give an explanation of and recommendation for cure of a health problem I have? Being over the age of 65 and in reasonably good health, I suffer every winter from painful cracks in my fingertips and the soles of my feet. — R.V.
ANSWER: The cracking indicates that your skin is drying out. You can restore moisture to your fingertips with a light coat — just a dab will do you — of petroleum jelly (Vaseline or another moisturizer) before going to bed. Put Band-Aids over your fingertips, and leave them on all night. You can do the same during the day, but it’s a bit inconvenient. In about three days, the cracks should be filling in. Continue this treatment every third or fourth night.
The same thing works for the feet. You don’t use Band-Aids, but you do cover your feet with socks before going to sleep. Don’t apply petroleum jelly during the daytime. It might make you somewhat unsteady. It takes longer for feet to heal.
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