Common Cold: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment


The common cold is a viral contagious disease that infects the upper respiratory system. It is also known as acute viral rhinopharyngitis or acute coryza. Common cold can be caused by a number of different types of viruses. This is why the human body can never build up resistance to all of them. Common cold is the most common infectious disease in human and is mainly caused by coronaviruses or rhinoviruses. It can be spread by air droplets from coughs and sneezes and by touching infected surfaces. It is usually harmless, though it can possibly cause serious symptoms. Symptoms usually begin 2 or 3 days after infection and last 2 to 14 days. It is estimated that people in the United States suffer 1 billion colds in a year, with approximately 22 million days of school absences recorded annually.


There are more than 200 different viruses that can cause common colds. About 50 percent of the colds are caused by rhinoviruses. Other cold-causing viruses include:

  • human parainfluenza virus
  • human metapneumovirus
  • coronaviruses
  • adenovirus
  • respiratory syncytial virus
  • enteroviruses

In addition, children in preschool and elementary school can have 6 to 12 colds per year while adolescents and adults generally have 2 to 4 colds per year. The common cold occurs most frequently during the fall, winter, and spring. There are some risk factors:

  • Age. Children under the age of 6 are at greatest risk of colds.
  • Weakened immune system. People with a chronic illness or otherwise weakened immune system are more likely to catch a cold.
  • Season. Both children and adults are susceptible to colds in fall and winter, but people can get a cold anytime.
  • Smoking. People are prone to catch a cold and have more-severe colds if they are smokers.
  • Exposure. If you are in a crowed environment around many people, such as at school or on an airplane, it is likely to be exposed to viruses that cause colds.


Cold symptoms typically take a few days to appear. Signs and symptoms can vary from person to person, which might include:

  • cough
  • blocked nose
  • watery nasal secretions
  • difficulty breathing deeply
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • hoarse voice
  • mild fever
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • pink eyes
  • fatigue or general tiredness
  • chills
  • loss of smell or taste
  • chest discomfort
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • muscle aches


There are some precautions that can help avoid catching the common cold, which include:

  • Wash your hands regularly and often with soap and water. Cold viruses can be transmitted from one person to another by touch.
  • Avoid exposure to many people infected with a cold.
  • Eat a lot of healthy fruit and vegetables to help keep the immune system strong.
  • When sneezing or coughing, it is better to use a tissue. Discard the tissue carefully and wash your hands.
  • Keep your home clean — especially in the kitchen or bathroom.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your nose and mouth.
  • Get exercise regularly.
  • Make sure enough sleep and keep a positive mood.
  • Manage stress.


Generally, there is no cure for the common cold. It is a self-limiting illness that will resolve spontaneously with time and expectant management. Cold treatments have two main categories: home remedies and medical treatments.

Home remedies:

Home treatment for upper respiratory infections includes gargling with saltwater, getting rest and drinking plenty of water. Herbs like echinacea may be effective at reducing symptoms of a cold. These treatments won’t cure or treat a cold but they can relieve the symptoms and make them easier to manage.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines:

The common OTC medicines used for colds include decongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers. In older children and adults, specific over-the-counter drugs such as throat lozenges, throat sprays, cough drops, and cough syrups may help relieve symptoms. Decongestant drugs such as pseudoephedrine may be used for nasal symptoms, and saline nasal sprays may also be beneficial. Pregnant women should notice the safety of common over-the-counter medications with their pharmacist or health care professional. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t recommend children under the age of 4 take OTC cold medicines.

Keywords: Common Cold

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.