The common cold is a viral infection leading to inflammation of the upper respiratory tract (nasal passages and throat).
There are over 200 different viruses known to be responsible for the common cold, including:
- Corona virus
- Coxsackie virus
- Parainfluenza virus
- Respiratory syncytial virus
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
- Exposure to infected individuals
- Touching one’s nose, mouth or eyes with contaminated fingers
- Personal history of allergies (lengthens duration of cold)
- Smoking cigarettes or frequent exposure to cigarette smoke due to decreased resistance
- Stress due to decreased resistance
- Sex: Female (especially around menstrual periods)
- Sore or scratchy throat
- Stuffy nose
- Thin mucus discharge from the nose (runny nose)
- Itchy, stuffed sensation in the ears
- Watery eyes
- Slight cough
- Aches and pains
- Decreased energy
- Low-grade fever
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Diagnosis is based on the symptoms and the findings of your physical exam.
There are no treatments that cure the common cold. However, a number of treatments can help relieve the symptoms, including:
Acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen can be used to treat the aches and pains.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving a child or teen aspirin.
Pills or nasal sprays can shrink the nasal passages and decrease mucus production. Nasal sprays should only be used for 2-3 days, however. If you use them for longer periods of time, when you stop using them you may suffer from increased congestion (called rebound congestion).
Drinks lots of fluids. Warm beverages and chicken soup are particularly soothing, and help reduce congestion.
A cool mist humidifier can help keep your nasal passages moist and reduce congestion. Be sure to clean the humidifier thoroughly every day.
Saline Nose Drops
Nose drops may provide relief from congestion.
For prevention and treatment of colds, antioxidants like vitamin C have no proven benefit—unless, of course, you’re vitamin deficient. (Other alternative therapies that have not been proven include zinc lozenges and echinacea.)
Salt Water Gargle
Gargling with warm salt water can help relieve a sore throat.
Over-the-Counter Cough Drops
Using throat lozenges as needed every couple of hours can help relieve sore throat and cough.
The most important way to prevent getting or spreading a cold is by washing your hands thoroughly and frequently. Keep hands away from nose, mouth and eyes. Minimize exposure to infected individuals. Reduce or eliminate smoking. Although many people think that taking high doses of vitamin C can reduce the chance of catching a cold, research has not proven this.