Common cold (patient information)

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Common cold


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?

When to seek urgent medical care?


Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Common cold?

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications


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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


The common cold generally includes: runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing. You may also have a sore throat, cough, headache, or other symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Common cold?

Cold symptoms usually occur within 2-3 days after you came in contact with the virus, although it could take up to a week. Symptoms mostly affect the nose.

The most common cold symptoms are as followings:

Adults and older children with colds generally have a low grade fever or no fever. However, young children often run a fever around 100-102°F.

Depending on the virus that caused your cold, you may also have the followings:

  • Cough
  • Decreased appetite
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Postnasal drip
  • Sore throat

What causes Common cold?

It is called “common cold” for good reason. There are over one billion colds in the United States each year. You and your children will probably have colds more than any other types of illness. Colds are the most common reason that children miss school and parents miss work. Parents often get colds from their children. Children typically get up to eight colds every year. They usually get them from other children. A cold can spread quickly through schools or daycares. Colds can occur at any time of the year, but they are most common in the winter or rainy seasons.

A cold virus would being spread through tiny air droplets, released when the sick person sneezes, coughs, or blows their nose.

You can catch a cold if:

  • A person with a cold sneezes, coughs, or blows their nose near you.
  • You touch your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contaminated by the virus, such as a toy or doorknob.

The disease is most contagious for the first 2-3 days; however, not contagious after the first week.


The main rout of diagnosis for Common cold is through the symptoms, include: weakness, runny nose, sneezing, or coughing.

There is no known laboratory, imaging, or any other tests that you need to diagnose the Common cold.

There are some other symptoms that may rule out the Common cold, raise suspicion to other more severe conditions, include: high fever, severe frustration, or productive cough.

Treatment options

The major primary options for treatment of Common cold include:

  • Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Cold medicines
  • Over-the-counter cold and cough medicines may help ease symptoms in adults and older children. They do not make your cold go away faster, but can help you feel better.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children under age 6. Talk to your doctor before giving your child any type of over-the-counter or non-prescription cough medicine, even if the label says it is made for children. These medicines likely will not work for children, even may have serious side effects.


Antibiotics should not be used to treat a common cold. They will not help and may make the situation worse. Thick yellow or green nasal discharge normally occurs with a cold after a few days. If it does not get better within 10-14 days, then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Other medicines

Newer antiviral drugs used to relieve flu symptoms do not help reduce cold symptoms.

Alternative treatments

Alternative treatments that have been used for colds, include:

  • Chicken soup
    • Chicken soup has been used for treating common colds for centuries. It may really help. The heat, fluidity, and saltiness may help you fight the infection.
  • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin C is a popular remedy for the common cold. Research shows that it does not prevent colds in many adults, but people who take vitamin C regularly seem to have slightly shorter colds and milder symptoms. Taking vitamin C after catching a cold doesn't seem to be helpful.
  • Zinc
    • Zinc supplements, taken for at least 5 days, may reduce your risk of catching the common cold. Taking a zinc supplement, within 24 hours of when you first feel sick, may make your cold symptoms less severe and help you get rid of them faster.
  • Echinacea
    • Echinacea is a herb that has been promoted as a natural way for preventing colds and the flu; could make the symptoms less severe. However, high-quality studies have failed to show that this herb may help to prevent or treat colds.

Generally, alternative treatments are safe for most people. However, some of them may cause side effects or allergic reactions. For example, some people are allergic to echinacea. Herbs and supplements may also change the way other medicines work. Talk to your doctor before trying an alternative treatment.

Where to find medical care for Common cold?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Common cold

When to seek urgent medical care?

Try to treat your cold at home first. Call your doctor if:

  • Breathing becomes difficult.
  • Your symptoms get worse or do not improve after 7-10 days.

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

The discharge of your runny nose will become thicker, may turn to yellow or green within a few days. This is normal, and not a reason for using antibiotics. Most cold symptoms usually go away within a week. If you still feel sick after 7 days, see your doctor to rule out conditions include: sinus infection, allergies, or other medical problems.

Possible complications

Common cold is the most common trigger of asthma symptoms in asthmatic children.

Common cold may also lead to:

Who is at highest risk?

Common cold can effect people of all age, gender, and ethnic group.


Here are five proven ways to help for lowering your chances of getting sick:

  • Wash your hands, ordinarily: Children and adults should wash hands after nose-wiping, diapering, and using the bathroom; and also before eating or preparing food.
  • Disinfect: Clean commonly touched surfaces (such as sink handles, door knobs, and sleeping mats) with an EPA-approved disinfectant.
  • Choose smaller daycare classes: Attending a daycare where there are less than seven children, dramatically reduces the spread of germs.
  • Use instant hand sanitizers: These products use alcohol to destroy germs. They are antiseptic, not antibiotic; thus, resistance can not develop. A little dab will kill 99.99% of germs without any water or towels.
  • Use paper towels instead of sharing cloth towels.

The immune system helps your body fight off infection. Here are six ways to strengthen your immune system:

  • Avoid secondhand smoke: Keep as far away from secondhand smoke as possible. It is responsible for many health problems, including colds.
  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotics: Using antibiotics too often, leads to antibiotic resistance. The more you use antibiotics, the more likely the medicines may not work, as well for you in the future. That means you have a higher chance of getting involved in longer, more stubborn infections.
  • Breastfeed: Breast milk is known to protect children against respiratory tract infections, even years after stop breastfeeding. Kids who are not been breastfed, would get ear infections about five times more than those who are.
  • Drink water: Fluids help your immune system works properly.
  • Eat yogurt: Certain yogurts contains "active cultures", or beneficial bacteria, help to prevent colds.
  • Get enough sleep: Not getting enough sleep makes you more likely to get sick.