The common cold is an infection that can irritate your upper respiratory tract (nose and throat).
The common cold is caused by a virus. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold, including:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for a cold are:
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:
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.
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:
Drinks lots of fluids. Warm beverages (like tea) and chicken soup are soothing and help reduce congestion.
A cool-mist humidifier can keep your nasal passages moist and reduce congestion. Be sure to clean the humidifier every day.
Saline nasal sprays may provide relief from congestion.
Nasal wash may reduce symptoms, medication use, and school absence. * 4
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.
Gargling with warm salt water can help relieve a sore throat.
Using throat lozenges as needed every couple of hours can help relieve sore throat and cough.
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:
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Lung Association
Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult . Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 1999.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/ .
* 1 12/4/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Lizogub VG, Riley DS, Heger M. Efficacy of a pelargonium sidoides preparation in patients with the common cold: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Explore (NY). 2007;3:573-584.
* 2 1/30/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Public health advisory: Nonprescription cough and cold medicine use in children—FDA recommends that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products not be used for infants and children under 2 years of age. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/advisory/cough_cold_2008.htm . Accessed January 30, 3008.
* 3 1/30/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:1149-1153.
* 4 2/26/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Slapak I, Skoupá J, Strnad P, Horník P. Efficacy of isotonic nasal wash (seawater) in the treatment and prevention of rhinitis in children. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008;134:67-74.
10/29/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Arruda E, Pitkäranta A, Witek TJ Jr, Doyle CA, Hayden FG. Frequency and natural history of rhinovirus infections in adults during autumn.
J Clin Microbiol.
Pappas DE, Hendley JO, Hayden FG, Winther B. Symptom profile of common colds in school-aged children. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2008;27:8-11.
Last reviewed November 2008 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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