Common cold



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



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


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



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


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.