Have a cold? Stay home the first couple of days

It turns out you may be able to keep colds at bay by keeping your nose warm. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON – Call them common, but colds aren’t a trivial health problem. Colds are highly contagious and account for about 40 percent of time lost from work in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.

Sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, headache and body aches are all symptoms of the common cold, which has no cure and can be caused by more than 200 viruses.

Doctors recommend people who are sick with a cold stay home and rest, especially during the first two to three days of a cold when it’s most contagious. Cold symptoms usually go away within a week, but can linger as long as two weeks.

When coping with colds or other ailments, such as sore throats, sinus infections or bronchitis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends treating the symptoms with rest, fluids, over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants.

The CDC says people also might feel better using saltwater nose drops. Running a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer may help.

The National Institutes of Health says alternative treatments some people use include chicken soup, vitamin C, zinc and echinacea.

Vitamin C won’t prevent colds in many people, according to NIH, but it says those who take it regularly seem to have milder symptoms and slightly shorter colds.

About 80 percent of contagious diseases are spread by people touching infected surfaces and then touching their eyes, noses or mouths, according to WebMd.

Good habits to help prevent catching the cold include getting plenty of rest and frequent hand washing.

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