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Good Health and Bad Medicine:
 Colds - Part 1

 Colds - Part 2

 Colds - Part 3


 Mouth Washes And Bad Breath

 Nasal Disorders

 Sinuses And Sinusitis



 Asthma And Hay Fever

 Read More Articles About: Good Health and Bad Medicine

Colds - Part 1

( Originally Published 1940 )

Two billion dollars is the toll exacted annually by the common cold. The greater part of this represents a loss in wages as a result of absence from work due to colds. A considerable portion of the remainder is spent each year on medicines advertised and sold as cold preventives and cures.

Medical investigation indicates that colds are caused by a "filterable virus"-an organism so small that it cannot be seen even through the most powerful microscopes; so small that it can pass through the fine porcelain filters which stop the tiniest known bacteria.

All "cold remedies" must be appraised in the light of the fact that medical science has not yet discovered a positive means to prevent or cure colds.

While there is no means of inoculating or vaccinating people against colds as effectively as can be done for smallpox and diphtheria, there are nevertheless certain measures which are useful in combating infection.

The best way to avoid colds is to avoid people suffering from colds. Such counsel is, unfortunately, almost impossible to obey literally. But one should attempt, at least, to keep out of sneezing range of cold-carriers.

Sudden chilling of the body, especially if one is fatigued, seems to catch the body's heat-regulating mechanism off guard and permits the cold virus and other organisms which in-habit the nose and throat, to invade the body and cause illness. The long-prescribed advice, to keep the feet dry, seems to have a sound foundation. Overheating of rooms during the winter months is another important factor in in-creasing the incidence of colds. The temperature of rooms should be kept at about 68 Fahrenheit.


Cold vaccines, which are used by some physicians, may in a small percentage of cases reduce the severity and duration of colds, but they will not prevent them. Before advising a series of cold injections, however, a physician will make sure that the so-called "colds" are not really attacks of "allergic rhinitis" caused by sensitivity to certain substances in the environment such as dust, feathers or orris root. Cold vaccines that are taken by mouth, such as Entoral, have been proved worthless. So, also, have many other commonly used "remedies." Still others are actually dangerous. Let us ex-amine some of them.


The number of different brands of cold tablets on the market is beyond calculation. Besides the nationally advertised remedies, almost every drug store carries a number of small private brands, which unfortunately the pharmacist himself as often as not recommends.

Aspirin, the most widely used of pills, does not have the slightest effect in curing a cold; it does not cut short the period of infection or reduce the congestion of the nose and throat. It is of value only in diminishing the fever, aches and pains which accompany a cold. While for this purpose it is safer than most other analgesics (pain relievers), some per-sons are especially sensitive to it, and to such people even small doses can cause serious reactions (see page 29). The long series of Bayer advertisements, telling how a cold can be cured overnight by doses of aspirin (Bayer) is entirely without foundation.

The widely advertised Grove's Laxative Bromo-Quinine contains another drug, acetanilid, which acts somewhat like aspirin in relieving aches and pains. While most persons can take an occasional moderate dose of acetanilid with apparent safety, it can cause serious reactions (see page 31).

Other cold tablets consist for the most part of aspirin, acetanilid, acetphenetidin, quinine or related drugs, frequently combined with laxatives.

Many "coryza" or "rhinitis" tablets contain belladonna or its derivative, atropine. Although atropine may produce a temporary dryness of the nose and throat, this is generally of short duration and is perhaps more unpleasant than the congestion itself. While the drug has no influence upon the progress of the cold itself, it may give some comfort.

The only drug remedy that has been found to be of real value in the treatment of a cold is a combination of codeine and papaverine, or codeine alone. These drugs are narcotic, and can be obtained only on prescription by a physician. There is no doubt they have helped many people.

Nose Drops

The use of nose drops in the treatment of colds is based upon the false assumption that a cold is simply a congestion of the nose and throat, and that the instillation of drops containing an antiseptic or a substance which will shrink the mucous membrane, such as ephedrine, will prevent, check or cure the cold. Actually, a "cold" is what doctors call a general or systemic infection. Congestion of the nose is only one, even though the most annoying, of the symptoms. But there are other symptoms as well. There may be headache, fever and general achiness of the joints or muscles. Nose drops, at best, combat merely one manifestation of a cold. All evidence indicates that they do this poorly; they may actually aggravate the congestion they are expected to relieve.

Consumers should bewarned that the use of nose drops containing mineral oil presents a serious hazard. Consumers Union was the first public organization to warn consumers of this danger. We quote from Consumers Union Reports:

"For many years medical evidence has been piling up that mineral oil dropped into the noses of children, especially very young children, may be drawn into the lungs. There it collects, causing irritation, inflammation and chronic pneumonia. The sequel is often acute pneumonia and death.

"The medicine that can do this is the familiar nose drops used for colds-Mistol, Vick's Va-tro-nol, Pineoleum, and dozens of others."

Since the warning appeared in Consumers Union Reports, many city and state health departments have issued public statements cautioning against use of mineral-oil nose drops.

Besides mineral oil, nose drops may contain such drugs as menthol, thymol, eucalyptol and camphor. These drugs pro-duce a tingling, cooling sensation, giving the impression of powerful healing or antiseptic properties. But such sensations are deceptive; the drugs are, in fact, known to irritate the mucous membrane. They destroy the epithelium (outer covering of the membrane) and favor infection by impairing the useful functioning of the many tiny hairs in the nose which serve as a guard against bacteria. Drops containing menthol are particularly harmful for infants because of the delicacy of their mucous membrane.

Other commonly used drops contain antiseptics such as argyrol and neo-silvol. Despite advertising claims, these drugs cannot disinfect the nose; in fact, no known antiseptic can. In a cold, the important germs are not on the surface of the mucous membrane but in the deeper parts of the tissues, and experiments have proved that antiseptic drugs cannot reach these germs. The experiments have proved, furthermore, that antiseptics dropped into the nose are potentially dangerous, in that they can cause irritation not only of the nose but of the lungs as well. Antiseptics containing silver salts can also cause a permanent greyish or purplish staining of the skin near the eyes, known as local argyria (argyrism).

The only nose drops shown to be somewhat useful in colds are those containing vaso-constrictor drugs which tend to relieve congestion or "stuffy" feeling. The most familiar and most efficient are neo-synephrin and ephedrine. Two or three drops of neo-synephrin 1/4 %, or ephedrine 1%, in normal salt (isotonic) solution (not in oily solution) may be instilled into each nostril every two to four hours. Sit on a chair and keep head as far back as possible during the instillation, so that the nose is pointed toward the ceiling. Maintain this position until the solution is felt in the throat. Then throw the head forward between the knees, with the chin touching the chest. By this maneuver the solution will reach the major part of the mucous membrane of the nose.

During the initial hours of a cold, the nose may be so congested that little of the solution can reach the mucous membrane. There is nothing that can be done about this. Furthermore, it is' a frequent experience that if the solution does give some relief, there may follow even more severe congestion than before.

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