The Common Cold

A common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract. The common cold also affects the nose and throat and may be caused by different viruses. Symptoms of the common cold normally last about one week but may last longer in children, the elderly, and in individuals with other underlying conditions or illnesses. The common cold is one of the main reasons people visit the doctor each year.

Symptoms of the Common Cold

Symptoms of the common cold can vary depending on the type of virus that has caused it. Cold symptoms may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Low grade fever
  • Body aches
  • Nasal congestion

Adults may suffer from two to four colds each year, while children may have between six and eight colds each year. Colds are especially widespread during the winter and rainy seasons with symptoms appearing usually one to three days after exposure.

Causes of the Common Cold

The common cold is caused by a virus that affects the upper respiratory tract, throat and nose. While there are more than 200 viruses that can cause the symptoms of the common cold, the rhinovirus is the most common type of virus that causes most colds. Colds are highly contagious and are often spread when droplets of the fluid containing the virus are transferred by touch or are inhaled.

Treatment of the Common Cold

The infection from the common cold usually lasts for about a week or two. The following treatments will not cure a cold, but may relieve some of the symptoms:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Resting
  • A saltwater gargle
  • Over the counter decongestant or antihistamine
  • Saline nose drops
  • Acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen for body aches or fever
  • Adding a cool mist humidifier to the room

There are no antiviral medications available for treating the common cold. Antibiotics are also not useful for treating a cold, and should only be taken to treat bacterial complications that may arise from a cold.

Prevention of the Common Cold

The following precautions can be taken to prevent catching or transmitting a cold:

  • Frequent hand washing
  • Covering the mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • Keeping hands away from eyes and nose
  • Avoiding close contact with people that have a cold

While a common cold is not serious, it is unpleasant and can often cause missed days of work or school. Patients should seek medical attention if symptoms such as fever, headache or breathing difficulties worsen and do not get better over time.

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