Common cold

Overview

Definition

The common cold is an infection that can inflame the nose and throat.

Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
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Causes

The common cold is caused by a virus. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold.

Risk Factors

The common cold is most common in infants and young children. However, people of all ages get colds. They are also more common during autumn. Other things that raise the risk are:

  • Being near someone who has a cold
  • Touching the nose, mouth, or eyes with contaminated hands
  • Having a weak immune system
  • Smoking
  • Heavy physical training
  • Sleeping less than 6 hours
  • Recent airplane travel

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Symptoms of the common cold may be:

  • A stuffy or runny nose
  • Coughing
  • A sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • A low fever
  • Headache or body aches
  • Hoarse voice
  • Feeling tired

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is most often based on symptoms. Tests are usually only given if another condition is suspected, such as pneumonia.

Treatments

Treatment

A cold often lasts 10 days or longer. There is no cure, but treatments can ease symptoms. Options may be:

  • Home care—such as rest, fluids, warm and moist air, and gargling
  • Medicines to reduce aches and fever
  • Cold remedies for short-term relief, such as:
    • Decongestants—to ease a stuffy nose and head
    • Expectorants—to loosen mucus
    • Cold medicines with antihistamines—to ease runny nose and sneezing
    • Antitussives—to ease coughing
    • Throat lozenges—to ease a sore throat and coughing
    • Mentholated vapor rubs—may help the nose feel less stuffy
  • Alternative treatments that may shorten the length of a cold, such as:
    • Zinc
    • Pelargonium sidoides extract
    • Andrographis

Prevention

The risk of getting a cold may be reduced by:

  • Washing the hands often
  • Staying away from people with colds
  • Not touching the nose, mouth, and eyes
  • Healthy habits, such as getting plenty of sleep and not smoking

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Viral Rhinitis; Upper Respiratory Tract Infection; URI)

RESOURCES

American Lung Association http://www.lung.org 

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians https://www.familydoctor.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca 

College of Family Physicians of Canada http://www.cfpc.ca 

References

Colds and flus. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at:  http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments . Accessed March 26, 2021.

Mousa HA. Prevention and treatment of influenza, influenza-like illness, and common cold by herbal, complementary, and natural therapies. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017;22(1):166-174.

Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/upper-respiratory-infection-uri-in-adults-and-adolescents-18 . Accessed March 26, 2021.

Upper respiratory infection (URI) in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/upper-respiratory-infection-uri-in-children. Accessed March 26, 2021.