Common Cold


The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). It’s usually harmless, although it might not feel that way. Many types of viruses can cause a common cold.

Most people recover from a common cold in a week or 10 days. Symptoms might last longer in people who smoke. Generally, you don’t need medical attention for a common cold. However, if symptoms don’t improve or if they get worse, see your doctor.

Healthy adults can expect to have two or three colds each year. Infants and young children may have even more frequent colds.

What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?

The common cold and the flu may seem very similar at first. They are indeed both respiratory illnesses and can cause similar symptoms. However, different viruses cause these two conditions, and your symptoms will gradually help you differentiate between the two.

Both a cold and the flu share a few common symptoms. People with either illness often experience:

▪️a runny or stuffy nose.


▪️body aches.

▪️general fatigue.As a rule, flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms.

Another distinct difference between the two is how serious they are. Colds rarely cause additional health conditions or problems. The flu, however, can lead to sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and sepsis.To determine whether your symptoms are from a cold or from the flu, you need to see your doctor. Your doctor will run tests that can help determine what’s behind your symptoms.

If your doctor diagnoses a cold, you’ll likely only need to treat your symptoms until the virus has had a chance to run its course. These treatments can include using over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of rest.

If you have the flu, you may benefit from taking an OTC flu medicine early in the virus’ cycle. Rest and hydration are also very beneficial for people with the flu. Much like the common cold, the flu just needs time to work its way through your body.


Symptoms of a common cold usually appear one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus. Signs and symptoms, which can vary from person to person, might include:

▪️Runny or stuffy nose.

▪️Sore throat.



▪️Slight body aches or a mild headache.


▪️Low-grade fever.

▪️Generally feeling unwell.The discharge from your nose may start out clear and become thicker and yellow or green as a common cold runs its course. This doesn’t usually mean you have a bacterial infection.

When to see a doctor.

For adults —

generally, you don’t need medical attention for a common cold. However, seek medical attention if you have:

▪️Symptoms that worsen or fail to improve.

▪️Fever greater than 101.3 F (38.5 C) lasting more than three days.

▪️Fever returning after a fever-free period.

▪️Shortness of breath.


▪️Severe sore throat, headache or sinus pain.

For children —

in general, your child doesn’t need to see his or her doctor for a common cold. But seek medical attention right away if your child has any of the following:

▪️Fever of 100.4 F (38 C) in newborns up to 12 weeks.

▪️Rising fever or fever lasting more than two days in a child of any age.

▪️Severe symptoms, such as headache, throat pain or cough.

▪️Difficulty breathing or wheezing.

▪️Ear pain.

▪️Extreme fussiness.

▪️Unusual drowsiness.

▪️Lack of appetite.


Although many types of viruses can cause a common cold, rhinoviruses are the most common cause.

A cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks.

It also spreads by hand-to-hand contact with someone who has a cold or by sharing contaminated objects, such as eating utensils, towels, toys or telephones. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after such contact, you’re likely to catch a cold.

Risk factors.

These factors can increase your chances of getting a cold:

▪️Age. Infants and young children are at greatest risk of colds, especially if they spend time in child care settings.

▪️Weakened immune system. Having a chronic illness or otherwise weakened immune system increases your risk.

▪️Time of year. Both children and adults are more likely to get colds in fall and winter, but you can get a cold anytime.

▪️Smoking. You’re more likely to catch a cold and to have more-severe colds if you smoke or are around secondhand smoke.

▪️Exposure. If you’re around crowds, such as at school or on an airplane, you’re likely to be exposed to viruses that cause colds.


These conditions can occur along with your cold:

▪️Acute ear infection (otitis media). This occurs when bacteria or viruses enter the space behind the eardrum. Typical signs and symptoms include earaches or the return of a fever following a common cold.

▪️Asthma. A cold can trigger wheezing, even if you don’t have asthma. If you have asthma, a cold can make it worse.

▪️Acute sinusitis. In adults or children, a common cold that doesn’t resolve can lead to swelling and pain (inflammation) and infection of the sinuses.

▪️Other infections. A common cold can lead to other infections, including strep throat, pneumonia, and croup or bronchiolitis in children. These infections need to be treated by a doctor.

Diagnosing a cold.

Diagnosing a cold rarely requires a trip to your doctor’s office. Recognizing symptoms of a cold is often all you need in order to diagnose yourself. Of course, if symptoms worsen or persist after about a week’s time, you may need to see your doctor. You may actually be showing symptoms of a different problem, such as the flu or strep throat.

If you have a cold, you can expect the virus to work its way out in about a week to 10 days. If you have the flu, this virus may take the same amount of time to fully disappear, but if you notice symptoms are getting worse after day five, or if they’ve not disappeared in a week, you may have developed another condition.

The only way to definitively know if your symptoms are the result of a cold or the flu is to have your doctor run a series of tests. Because the symptoms and treatments for a cold and the flu are very similar, a diagnosis only helps you make sure you’re paying more attention to your recovery.


There’s no cure for the common cold. Most cases of the common cold get better without treatment, usually within a week to 10 days. But a cough may linger for a few more days. The best thing you can do is take care of yourself while your body heals. For example, drink plenty of liquids, humidify the air, use saline nasal rinses and get adequate rest.

Antibiotics are of no use against cold viruses and shouldn’t be used unless there’s a bacterial infection.

Relieving your symptoms can include using over-the-counter (OTC) medication to reduce fever, body aches, congestion and cough. Some remedies might help ease your symptoms and keep you from feeling so miserable. But there are pros and cons to commonly used cold remedies, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, nasal sprays and cough syrups. Don’t give OTC cold medications to children.

Ease a child’s cold symptoms with these home remedies:

▪️Rest: Children who have a cold may be more lethargic and irritable than normal. Let them stay home from school and rest until the cold has cleared.

▪️Hydration: It’s very important children with a cold get plenty of fluids. Colds can dehydrate them quickly. Make sure they’re drinking regularly. Water is great. Warm drinks like tea can pull double duty as a sore throat soother.

▪️Food: Kids with a cold may not feel as hungry as usual, so look for ways to give them calories and fluids. Smoothies and soups are two great options.

▪️Salt gargles: They aren’t the most pleasant experience, but gargling with warm, salty water can make sore throats feel better. Saline nasal sprays can also help clear nasal congestion.

▪️Warm baths: A warm bath can sometimes help reduce a fever and ease mild aches and pains that are common with a cold.


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