In the dark ages, before the science of * bacteriology was a subject of popular interest, there was a general idea that cold in the head was the result of a chill, and the people with a genius for catching cold spent their lives in a vain effort to avoid the draughts and damp which are inevitably associated with our climate.
At last, however, we are becoming educated up to the standard of realising that cold in the head is an infectious ailment which has very little to do with cold weather. Chill may be a cause of " cold," but only in the same way that fatigue, worry, and indigestion are causes. Chill will lower the vitality and make anyone more susceptible - that is all. If we could prevent the microbes of cold in the head from entering our respiratory passage, from making their way into the nose or into the mouth, we should never " catch cold."
Unfortunately, however, microbes are plenti-ful. We meet them every day, every hour of the day. Indeed, we cannot escape from them unless we are prepared to sit in airtight boxes and to die of asphyxia. Microbes, moreover, hate intense heat or cold, but neither the oven nor the refrigerator are abodes likely to appeal to any one of us.
For an infectious disease, such as a cold, to develop, however, the seed, or microbe, must find " a suitable soil." We breathe into our lungs every day of our lives the deadliest of microbes, but they do not kill us; on the contrary, our tissues destroy and annihilate them. In fact, our "soil' is resistant; our tissues are sufficiently healthy to destroy the microbes of disease, and do not permit them to destroy us.
But supposing that our vitality is depressed by chill or overwork, supposing we are suffering from dyspepsia or disappointed love, then the microbes have their opportunity. Our depressed tissues are conquered. The soil is receptive, and the two or three microbes which enter our nasal passages or our mouths fasten upon the membranes of our respiratory passage, and flourish like the proverbial green bay-tree, until they form there whole colonies of the microbes of cold in the head. We sneeze and cough in a vain effort to get rid of them. We take quinine in the attempt to poison them, but with very little result. We are in the grip of " cold," and in nine cases out of ten it runs its course.
Exposure to cold will never in itself cause catarrh of the air-passage. Chill in the pure fresh air has nothing to do with it. Draughts do not cause cold, but rather prevent it, because microbes flee before fresh air. In the same way, damp will not in itself cause cold in the head. You may get wet, just as you may sit in a draught, and these proceedings will do no more than predispose you to cold, in that they lower your vitality. The open-air treatment of consumption compels patients with diseased lungs to sit in draughts, and even in some cases to walk barefoot in the snow, and the only effect is improvement of their general health.
How does the ordinary person catch cold ? First, because he is afraid of draughts, and thus he will invite cold by avoiding healthy currents of pure air. He poisons his tissues by living in stuffy rooms, by sleeping in bedrooms where no draught can enter, by ignoring the crying necessity for improved ventilation in our homes, our churches, our theatres, and concert-halls.
At this season of the year every gathering of people contains two or three who are suffering from nasal catarrh, and yet only on a very few occasions is the amount of pure air per head sufficient for the people present in the assembly. After, perhaps, half an hour everybody present is breathing into the lungs air which is deficient in oxygen, which contains an excess of carbonic acid gas, and which is thickly populated with microbes expired by persons suffering from what is commonly called " cold in the head."
These microbes, however, have not the power to hurt the people present if only they will get enough pure air to keep their tissues healthy. But after one hour or two hours the air of the room becomes poisonous, and depresses the tissues of the nose, throat, and bronchial passages. Now the microbe has its opportunity. It fastens upon the tissues. Perhaps the person at this stage goes out from the hot room into the cold air outside. He feels the difference of temperature, and shivers. He is chilled, and the microbe has a still greater chance of flourishing. Next morning that person wakes up with a cold in the head, and, in ignorance of the real cause of the disease, declares that he caught cold because there was a draught just above the place where he was sitting.
Now, the moral of the story is that the only way to escape colds and catarrhs is, first, to get liberal doses of fresh air day and night; and, secondly, to keep up the general health, so that our tissues are strong enough to fight the microbes which, like the poor, are constantly with us.
All the catarrhs prevalent at this season resemble each other in that they are due to inflammation of the mucous membrane of our air-passages because of microbic infection. Supposing the microbe chiefly affects the nose. Then we have catarrh of the nasal passages, or "cold in the head." Supposing the microbes affect instead the throat. Then we have laryngitis, tonsilitis, or, in simple language, sore, throat. If they penetrate into the larynx, we have hoarseness. If they get a little lower into the windpipe, coughing is set up. Whilst if they penetrate to the large bronchi leading to the lungs, we have bronchitis (which is described in this number under the " Dictionary of Ailments").
With a view to preventing catarrh, we must always live in a pure atmosphere; we must thoroughly ventilate our houses and sleep with our windows at least six inches open; we must accustom our skin to resist cold by a daily cold sponge. The skin naturally contracts under the influence of cold. This sends the blood from the surface of the body to the interior, preserves the body temperature from falling, and guards against chill.
But in these days of civilisation our skins have lost something of their primitive functions, wholly because we habitually over-clothe ourselves. Our hands and our faces do not feel cold to the same extent as the rest of our bodies, simply because the skin of these parts has not been spoilt by over-clothing. We wear too many clothes and too heavy clothes.
Mufflers, furs, and great-coats contribute greatly to our liability to catch cold. First, they hinder the skin from performing its proper function; and, secondly, when we are over-clothed we are apt to perspire, and the loss of heat by perspiration induces chill, which, as already has been shown, predisposes a person to catching cold.
The following rules, therefore, are important:
1. Live always in well-ventilated rooms, and don't be afraid of draughts.
2. Don't choose the cosy corner of the warm fireside. Keep up the body temperature by activity, and not by artificial heat.
4. Eat simple, easily digested meals, and not too many of them. Over-eating is a cause of cold. It lessens the vitality, causing obstruction to the blood flow, a physiological cause of inflammation.
5. Take cold baths. If in the deepest winter the idea of a cold bath overpowers your fainting spirit, stand in hot water, sponge rapidly with cold water, and dry with a rough towel. This is the best possible measure for increasing the vitality and resisting power of the skin.
6. Wear fewer and lighter clothes. The muffler is a hygienic horror. The fur necklet is responsible for innumerable colds. Heavy overcoats cause more colds than the poverty-stricken garments of the beggar.
7. Wear thick-soled boots with rubber soles.
8. Avoid stuffy places of entertainment when you are tired or out of sorts.
How to Cure a Cold
If, in spite of all these precautions, you con tinue to catch one cold after another through the winter, have the throat and nose examined by a doctor. Often there is some small local mischief which is a continual source of irritation, and tends to keep the air-passages unhealthy. Adenoids will do this. A little tumour in the nose or a closing of one nostril by the middle partition being deflected to one side are common causes for continual colds.
If you have caught a cold, and with it there is high temperature and considerable feeling of illness, it is safer to stay indoors, because many a serious illness may originate in a severe cold followed by another chill. If you have any sense of responsibility for the welfare of others, keep away from your fellow-creatures, to avoid spreading infection. Take simple, almost milk diet, so as not to throw any further strain on the system.
Give up butcher's meat, for a few days at least. Take lightly boiled or scrambled eggs, a little white fish, liquid milk " puddings," such as hot cornflour and milk, arrowroot, custards. The heavy smoker should rigidly cut down his tobacco allowance, as nicotine exerts an irritating effect upon the respiratory passages.
Get as much fresh air as you can. It is the greatest mistake to sit in stuffy rooms with closed windows. Open the window at least a few inches at the top, and keep the temperature of the room even by means of a fire.
If there is any elevation of temperature it is necessary to stay in bed. A day in bed at the beginning of a cold may cut it short, whilst a severe chill and attack of influenza may result from going out of doors in east winds or fogs.
If bed is necessary, apply heat externally and internally, in the form of hot bottles, hot baths, and hot drinks.
An inhalation is one of the best methods of checking a commencing cold. Buy a shilling inhaler and fill it with boiling water. Add one teaspoonful of Friar's Balsam and inhale the medicated steam. It acts as a sedative and antiseptic to the whole respiratory tract.
A nasal douche of hot water and borax is another excellent device for nasal catarrh.
A glass nasal douche can be purchased from any chemist. Add a teaspoonful of borax powder to half a tumbler of water. Fill the syringe, tilt the head back, and let a stream of fluid pass up the nostrils alternately. A mild purgative and a little quinine are the only medicines which should be taken without doctor's advice.