Common cold

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Overview

Common colds, or simply “colds,” are usually quite harmless and go away again on their own. The symptoms of a cold such as a cough, sore throat and a runny nose can be really annoying. A severe cold can make you feel weak and ill, too.


Colds usually go away on their own after about a week, but some symptoms may last longer. Although a sore throat or a stuffy nose may be gone after just a few days, it can sometimes take up to three weeks for a cough to disappear completely.


Treatment with medication usually isn’t necessary. Some medications may, at best, help relieve the symptoms a bit. Because colds are typically caused by viruses, it also doesn't make sense to use antibiotics to treat an ordinary cold. Antibiotics only fight bacteria.

Symptoms

Sneezing.

Stuffy nose.

Runny nose.

Sore throat.

Coughing.

Mucus dripping down your throat (post-nasal drip)

Watery eyes.

Fever (although most people with colds do not have fever)

Causes

Although many types of viruses can cause a common cold, rhinoviruses are the most common cause. A cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks.

A cold is caused by a virus that causes inflammation of the membranes that line the nose and throat. The common cold is very easily spread to others. It's often spread through airborne droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air by the sick person. The droplets are then inhaled by another person.

The cold is a common infection of the upper respiratory tract. Although many people think you can catch a cold by not dressing warmly enough in the winter and being exposed to chilly weather, it’s a myth. The real culprit is one of more than 200 viruses.


The common cold is spread when you inhale virus particles from an infected person’s sneeze, cough, speech, or loose particles from when they wipe their nose. You can also pick up the virus by touching a contaminated surface that an infected individual has touched. Common areas include doorknobs, telephones, children’s toys, and towels. Rhinoviruses (which cause the most colds) can live for up to three hours on hard surfaces and hands.


Most viruses can be classified into one of several groups. These groups include:


human rhinoviruses

coronaviruses

parainfluenza viruses

adenoviruses



Risk factors

Age. Infants and young children are at greatest risk of colds, especially if they spend time in child care settings.

Weakened immune system. Having a chronic illness or otherwise weakened immune system increases your risk.

Time of year. ...

Smoking. ...

Exposure.

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Complications

The common cold will usually run its course without complication. In some instances it may spread to your chest, sinuses, or ears. The infection can then lead to other conditions such as:


Ear infection: The main symptoms are earaches or a yellow or green discharge from the nose. This is more common in children.


Sinusitis: It occurs when a cold does not go away and stays for long periods of time. Symptoms include inflamed and infected sinuses.


Asthma: Breathing difficulty and/or wheezing that can be triggered by a simple cold.


Chest infection: Infections can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis. Symptoms include lingering cough, shortness of breath, and coughing up mucus.


Strep throat: Strep is an infection of the throat. Symptoms include a severe sore throat and sometimes a cough.


When to see a doctor

For colds that do not go away, seeing a doctor is necessary. It’s important to seek medical attention if you have a fever higher than 101.3°F, a returning fever, trouble breathing, persistent sore throat, sinus pain, or headaches.


Children should be taken to the doctor for fevers of 100.4°F or higher, if they have cold symptoms for more than three weeks, or if any of their symptoms become severe.


Prevention

Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash them for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. ...

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. ...

Stay away from people who are sick.