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Common cold Overview
The common cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract your nose and throat. A common cold is usually harmless, although it may not feel that way at the time. If it’s not a runny nose, sore throat and cough, it’s the watery eyes, sneezing and congestion or maybe all of the above. In fact, because any one of more than 100 viruses can cause a common cold, signs and symptoms tend to vary greatly.
Preschool children are at greatest risk of frequent colds, but even healthy adults can expect to have a few colds each year.
Most people recover from a common cold in about a week or two. If symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor.
Common cold facts
- The common cold is caused by many different viruses.
- The common cold is transmitted by infected airborne droplets or by direct contact with infected secretions.
- Being in cold weather does not cause the common cold.
- Symptoms of the common cold include
- sore throat,
- runny nose.
- Over-the-counter medications may be used for treatment of the common cold.
- Antibiotics are not necessary for the common cold.
- The common cold is a self-limited condition and can generally be managed at home.
How a Common Cold Starts
You can catch a common cold from another person who is infected with the virus. This usually happens by touching a surface contaminated with cold germs a computer keyboard, doorknob, or eating utensil, for example and then touching your nose or mouth. You can also catch a cold by encountering secretions someone with a cold has sneezed into the air.
A cold begins when a cold virus attaches to the lining of your nose or throat. Your immune system sends white blood cells out to attack this germ. Unless you’ve encountered that exact strain of the virus before, the initial attack fails and your body sends in reinforcements. Your nose and throat get inflamed and produce a lot of mucus. With so much of your body’s energy directed at fighting the cold virus, you’re left feeling tired and miserable.
While getting chilled or wet is not a cause of common colds, there are factors that make you more susceptible to catching a cold virus. For example, you are more likely to catch a common cold if you are excessively fatigued, have emotional distress, or have allergies with nose and throat symptoms.
Causes of Common Cold
It is called the “common cold” for good reason. There are over one billion colds in the United States each year. You and your children will probably have more colds than any other type of illness.
Colds are the most common reason that children miss school and parents miss work. Parents often get colds from their children.
Children can get many 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 spreads through tiny, air droplets that are 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.
People are most contagious for the first 2 to 3 days of a cold. A cold is usually not contagious after the first week.
How does a common cold spread?
A cold can be spread through:
- direct contact – if you sneeze or cough, tiny droplets of fluid containing the cold virus are launched into the air and can be breathed in by others
- indirect contact – if you sneeze onto a door handle and someone else touches the handle a few minutes later, they may catch the cold virus if they then touch their mouth or nose
In general, a person first becomes contagious two to three days before their symptoms begin, and they remain contagious until all their symptoms have gone. So most people will be contagious for around two weeks.
What are the signs and symptoms of a cold?
A symptom is something the patient feels or reports, while a sign is something other people, including a doctor may detect. Pain could be an example of a symptom, while a rash could be a sign.
The body reacting to the cold virus is mainly what brings about the symptoms. A release of chemicals is triggered, making the blood vessels leak, causing the mucous glands to work harder. The most common symptoms of a cold are:
- Dry throat
- Sore throat
- Mild fever
- Hoarse voice
- Blocked nose
- Mild headache.
The rarer symptoms are:
- Muscle aches
- Pink eye
- Reduction in appetite
- Extreme exhaustion.
Approximately 25% of people do not suffer any symptoms when infected with the cold virus; perhaps because their immune system reacts differently to the virus. Sometimes bacteria can infect the ears or sinuses – this is known as a secondary bacterial infection – and can be treated with antibiotics.
What are risk factors for acquiring the common cold?
What are risk factors for acquiring the common cold?
There are various factors that may increase the chances of acquiring the common cold, including the following:
- Age: Infants and young children are more likely to develop the common cold because they have not yet developed immunity to many of the implicated viruses.
- Seasonal variation: Individuals more commonly acquire the common cold during the fall and winter, or during the rainy season (in warmer climates). This is felt to occur because people tend to stay indoors and are in closer proximity to one another.
- Weakened immune system: Individuals with a poorly functioning immune system are more likely to develop the common cold. Also, individuals with excessive fatigue or emotional distress may be more susceptible to catching the common cold.
Treatment of Common Cold
Most colds go away in a few days. Some things you can do to take care of yourself with a cold include:
- Get plenty of rest and drink fluids.
- 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 4.
- Antibiotics should not be used to treat a common cold.
- Many alternative treatments have been tried for colds, such as vitamin C, zinc supplements, and echinacea. Talk to your doctor before trying any herbs or supplements.
How can I prevent a cold spreading?
You can take steps to help prevent the spread of a cold. For example:
- wash your hands regularly and properly, particularly after touching your nose or mouth and before handling food
- always sneeze and cough into tissues as this will help to prevent the virus-containing droplets from your nose and mouth entering the air where they can infect others; throw away used tissues immediately and wash your hands
- clean surfaces regularly to keep them free of germs
- use your own cup, plates, cutlery and kitchen utensils
- use disposable paper towels to dry your hands and face, rather than shared towels. As with tissues, always dispose of the paper towels after you have finished using them