Last updateWed, 20 Sep 2017 9am

Your Health

Cold comfort


You know the signs. It starts with a sore throat and sneezing, or maybe you simply feel tired. Pretty soon you feel lousy, your nose is stuffy and you just want to lie down and do nothing. Its cold season, and everywhere you go there are sniffles and coughs to herald its presence.

There is a reason we call the cold common. It is an affliction that nearly everyone experiences. In 2011, Americans will experience more than 1 billion colds, leading to more than 40 million days of work and school missed. Caused by one of more than 200 different viruses, it is as yet incurable, but fortunately most colds have a limited course and are not life threatening. The average person will suffer from approximately 200 colds in their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Colds are both familiar and mysterious. How much do we really know about them? What causes them? Can they be prevented? What can be done to reduce the duration or severity of a cold? Does scientific research support the wisdom imparted by good old mom? Does it matter if you are wet or dry, cold or hot? Does chicken soup help?

For an educational and entertaining new book about colds, look no further than “Ah-Choo: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold” (Twelve, 2010). Science writer Jennifer Ackerman provides a highly readable exploration of this most common disease.

According to Ackerman, Americans make more than 100 million doctor office visits per year due to the cold, and scientists spend their lives trying to understand and cure cold viruses. She spends much of the book debunking myths, explaining why antibacterial soap does nothing to prevent and why antibiotics will not cure a cold.

Treatment tips from the experts are included. It is interesting to read tips from people who study colds – when they are sick, they rely on the same symptom relievers we all use. A discussion of folk remedies and popular natural cures that may or may not help you feel better is also interesting.

The book is full of facts and insight that are both fun and informative. Readers get both a dose of knowledge and a dose of humor. Colds may be the most common communicable disease, but in reality there is a whole world of infectious agents just waiting to make us sick. If you think about it too much, it’s easy to become paranoid about the germs among us. How does one know how to be prudent and sensible about disease prevention? “Germ Proof Your Kids: The Complete Guide to Protecting (Without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections” (ASM Press, 2008) takes an intelligent and balanced look at germ defense.

Author Harley A. Rotbart, M.D., a renowned pediatric infectious disease specialist, carefully blends the science of infection with common-sense “momisms” passed down through the ages. He calls for “prudent paranoia” and explains why it is important not to panic when there are fearsome news stories daily that inform you that what was good for you yesterday is bad for you now. The book is filled with sensible scientific approaches to staying healthy. It is an entertaining read as well as a handy home reference manual.

These books, along with other books and videos that discuss preventing and treating colds and other infections, are on the shelves of Stanford Health Library. For more information, contact Stanford Health Library in person, by telephone or by e-mail. Research assistance and customized information packets on all medical conditions and treatment are available free of charge. We can fax or e-mail them to you, or you can pick up the information at the library.

For those who want to do their own research, Stanford Health Library’s Web site accesses more than 10,000 links to trustworthy, evidence-based information, including more than 1,000 electronic books.

Stanford Health Library is free and open to the public. The library is open in five locations: Stanford Shopping Center, Stanford Hospital, Stanford’s Cancer Center, the Taube Koret Center for Jewish Life and the Ravenswood Family Health Center.

For more information, call 725-8400, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.

Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library.

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