Definition

The common cold is an infection that can irritate your upper respiratory tract (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, including:

  • Rhinovirus
  • Corona virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Coxsackie virus
  • Paramyxovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for a cold are:

  • Being near someone who has a cold
  • Touching your nose, mouth, or eyes with contaminated fingers
  • Having allergies (lengthens duration of cold)
  • Smoking cigarettes or being near cigarette smoke (due to decreased resistance)
  • Stress (due to decreased resistance)
  • Sex: female (especially around menstrual periods)

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Stuffy nose (makes it hard for you to breathe through your nose)
  • Runny nose (you are wiping your nose often)
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, stuffed sensation in the ears
  • Watery eyes
  • Slight cough
  • Headache
  • Aches and pains
  • Low energy
  • Low-grade fever

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam.

Treatment

A cold usually lasts more than 10 days. * 5 There are no cures for a cold. But there are treatments that can relieve your symptoms, including:

Pain Relievers

You can take these for aches and pains:

They also work for fever.

Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens who are currently or were recently infected with a virus. Check with your doctor before giving a child or teen aspirin.

Decongestants

Pills or nasal sprays can shrink nasal passages and decrease mucus production. Nasal sprays should only be used for 2-3 days. If you use them longer, you may have increased congestion when you stop using the product.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products should not be used for infants or children less than two years old. * 2 Rare but serious side effects have been reported, including:

  • Rapid heart rates
  • Convulsions
  • Decreased levels of consciousness
  • Death
OTC cough and cold products include:
  • Decongestants
  • Expectorants
  • Antihistamines
  • Antitussives (cough suppressants)

Fluids

Drinks lots of fluids. Warm beverages (like tea) and chicken soup are soothing and help reduce congestion.

Humidifier

A cool-mist humidifier can keep your nasal passages moist and reduce congestion. Be sure to clean the humidifier every day.

Saline Nasal Sprays

Saline nasal sprays may provide relief from congestion.

Nasal wash may reduce symptoms, medication use, and school absence. * 4

Alternative Treatments

Researchers are still studying whether alternative remedies, such as vitamin C , zinc lozenges, and echinacea , are helpful in preventing colds, reducing symptoms, and lessening the duration of colds.

The roots of a South African geranium plant, called Pelargonium sidoides , may improve cold symptoms and speed recovery. This herb is the main ingredient in Umcka ColdCare and Zucol products. * 1

Another natural remedy is honey, which appears to improve nighttime cough and sleep disruption in children. Do not give honey to infants younger than 12 months because of the risk of infant botulism. * 3

For most herbs, doctors do not yet know if they work. Also, some herbal treatments may not be pure. Talk to your doctor if you are thinking of using herbs or plants to treat a cold.

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.

Prevention

The most important way to keep from getting or spreading a cold is by washing your hands. Wash your hands well and often. Other ways to keep from getting a cold:

  • Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Stay away from people who have a cold.
  • If you smoke, stop or cut down on smoking.
  • Some people take vitamin C to keep from getting a cold. But doctors are not yet sure if vitamin C works.