Today's Cold Is Still Common

No acute condition causes more missed work or school days than the common cold. This $60 billion problem affects approximately 85% of the US population at least once annually. Because the common cold is so common, few researchers have conducted large studies examining its impact on various aspects of daily living.

No acute condition causes more missed work or school days than the common cold. This $60 billion problem affects approximately 85% of the US population at least once annually. Because the common cold is so common, few researchers have conducted large studies examining its impact on various aspects of daily living.

Now, a research team has filled in some knowledge gaps using a novel study design. The results of their Attitudes of Consumers Toward Health, Cough, and Cold (ACHOO) survey appeared in Current Medical Research & Opinion as an electronic publication ahead of print.

A panel of experts developed the 36-question study design, which relied on 2010 US Census data to develop a demographically representative sample. In October 2012, the experts randomly invited 3333 adult US Internet/mobile device users to participate in an online survey.

The participants provided information about their demographics, cough/cold symptom frequency and duration, symptom impact, treatment preferences, and knowledge about cough/cold pathophysiology. Most of the participants reported experiencing 1 or 2 colds annually, with 84.6% reporting at least 1 cold.

The participants validated what health care professionals already know: colds typically start with sore/scratchy throat (39.2%), nasal congestion (9.8%), and runny nose (9.3%). In the survey, participants reported that their colds lasted 3 to 7 days—a duration somewhat shorter than what has been identified in previous studies. More than one-third of patients believed that the common cold is a bacterial infection, and nearly as many reportedly thought that antibiotics are appropriate treatment.

Participants found nasal congestion and cough to be the most irritating of symptoms. Almost three-quarters of participants identified cough as their most common cold symptom, and most reported that it appeared between 1 and 5 days after cold onset. Cough tended to be the longest lasting symptom, lingering for more than 6 days in more than one-third of participants and up to 9 days in many participants.

Patients self-treated using OTC medications, basing their product selection on their perception of the product’s ability to relieve symptoms, safety, and past experience. However, 42.6% reported delaying treatment until their symptoms became quite bothersome, and approximately 20.2% delayed treatment until they experienced multiple symptoms. The majority (66.2%) preferred OTC products that addressed single symptoms.

More than three-quarters of participants had never received instructions from any health care professional on choosing a nonprescription cough/cold medication. Among those who asked for advice, less than half actually received recommendations.

The ACHOO survey results confirmed that the cold is a common, bothersome experience, and it identified knowledge gaps and opportunities to improve communication between health care professionals and patients.