Common Cold

Dr. Ayush PandeyMBBS,PG Diploma

November 21, 2017

June 04, 2022

Common Cold
Common Cold


Common cold is a communicable disease caused by viruses. It is an upper respiratory tract infection which spreads rapidly via air and direct contact. Rhinoviruses have been identified to cause 50% of common cold cases. Common cold is a self-limiting condition (gets cured on its own without any medical intervention) that usually lasts 5-7 days. However, the condition might get chronic if it is accompanied by flu or any other bacterial infections. The most common symptoms of common cold include running or blocked nose, itchy throat and continuous non-stop sneezing. 

What is Common Cold

All of us have had a Common Cold at some point or the other. The symptoms of common cold such as running or blocked nose, itchy throat and continuous non-stop sneezing are quiet relatable for all of us. However, some vital facts related to common cold are still not known to all such as what exactly is common cold? What are its causes? How can it be cured? And most importantly, how one can prevent himself/herself from common cold? Read on to find out everything about common cold.

What is it?

Common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection caused due to viruses. It is believed that there are more than 200 types of viruses which could be responsible for this condition, out of which “Rhinovirus” has been found to be the most prevalent one, accounting for approximately half of the cases of common cold condition. The other viruses which cause common cold are Coronavirus, Respiratory Syncytial virus, Influenza virus and Parainfluenza virus.

How does Common Cold spread?

This condition is communicable and you can easily catch common cold via people who are already affected by one of the above mentioned viruses. This condition may spread via air, physical contact with an infected person or coming in contact with those surfaces which are infectious such as computer keyboard, mobile phones, doorknob, and spoon etc. Physicians recommend not to have any direct skin contact and use personal belongings of an affected individual, by doing so you may increase your chances of contracting common cold to many folds. As you may know, already know, one of the main reasons for the widespread of common cold is because it can be easily spread via contagious droplets in the air when infected people sneeze, cough or even speak to each other. The virus is released to the surrounding and people quickly contract common cold as the virus enters the body via the nasal passage or throat lining.

Initially, our immune system protects the body by fighting against these infections and attacks the pathogen (virus) with the help of WBCs (White Blood Corpuscles). But if your body has not been previously infected by this condition, your immune system may not be ready for it. Due to this, there is an inflammation in your nose and throat resulting in mucus formation. You may be surprised to know and not even feel it, but our body uses a lot of energy to fight against these viruses, often resulting in fatigue (feeling weak & tired).

Did you know?

There is a commonly believed myth that feeling cold or getting wet makes you ill and contract common cold. But recent studies confirm that, the chances of catching common cold increases to many folds when you are under stress, or undergoing an emotional state of mind or having an allergy with symptoms of throat and nose

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Stages of Common Cold

Since common cold is caused due to several types of viruses, the pace and intensity of its symptoms may vary from one individual to the other. Usually, the symptoms of common cold begin to show up within 2-3 days of contracting this condition. Studies confirm that, it is very much possible that the symptoms may vary from being mild to severe in people.

For instance, an individual may only have mucus in the nose, while the other may have all the symptoms of the disease such as throat pain, throat itching, body ache, and fever. It has been observed that the symptoms develop depending upon the immunity and the disease-fighting capacity of an individual's body.

Mostly, people suffering from common cold are cured within 7- 10 days but there have been reported medical cases in which affected person may take longer to get over the viral infection completely. This condition again depends on the type of virus that has caused it, as well as the immune system of the affected person.

Symptoms of Common Cold

Generally, the onset of the common cold symptoms takes time. It is very rare that the symptoms begin to appear instantly.

Further, people often confuse and are unable to differentiate between the symptoms of common cold and flu because of the strikingly common similarities between them. However, knowing the difference between the symptoms of the two may help you take a better-informed decision about how to better address them. And further also help you decide whether to see your doctor or not.

 Nose-related symptoms of Common Cold:

  • stuffy nose.
  • pressure/ pain on the eyes, cheeks, and forehead (sinus region) 
  • runny nose
  • feeling of heaviness in the nose
  • inability to smell anything
  • continuous sneezing
  • you may feel the mucus running down from the nose into the back of your throat

  Head and throat related symptoms of Common Cold:

  • watery eyes.
  • mild to a moderate headache.
  • irritation in the throat.
  • cough along with phlegm (mucus).
  • swollen lymph node                                             

Body-related symptoms of Common Cold:

Common cold causes & risk factors

Why Does Common Cold Occur?

Common cold being a contagious and a communicable disease occurs and spreads when an infected person sneezes, coughs or even speaks while releasing the virus in the air and surrounding. The virus enters our body when the air is inhaled by us. As you may already know, the virus may also affect you if you come in direct contact with an object which has been touched or exposed to an infected person such as door knob/bolt, telephone, toys or a towel used by an affected person. Research suggests that Rhinovirus, the most common cause of common cold, can survive on any firm surface or body parts such as hands for 3 hours.

Many types of viruses have been identified by medical investigators and their samples have been taken from various species and clubbed into one single group. These species/groups are:

  • Human rhinovirus
  • Coronavirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Adenovirus

There are few other similar forms of viruses which may also cause a common cold, such as a syncytial virus, that has been separately categorised. However, research is going on and researchers have still not been able to identify certain specific varieties of viruses.

Risk Factors

As we have discussed earlier common cold also has its share of risks and complications. Below are a few factors that may increase the chances of having a common cold read on to find out.

  • Age:
    Scientific research suggests that infants and small children are more likely to have a common cold as their immune system is still developing, hence when they contract common cold their white blood cells (WBCs) are not sufficient enough to fight this disease.

  • Climate change:
    Evident research and experience suggest that some people are exclusively seen to catch a common cold during the winter season or monsoon (rainy season) and its symptoms are prominently visible. This is because people prefer to stay indoors during these seasons and thus come in contact with each other more often.

  • Weak Immune System:
    Studies suggest that for some people having a weak immune system is a major challenge as it makes the body exceedingly prone to common cold and other pathogenic invasions. Hence, a weak immune system is a major cause of catching a cold again and again. Researchers strongly suggest that emotional imbalance and fatigue lead to weakened immune system leading to repetitive episodes of common cold and other diseases.

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Prevention of Common Cold

It is considered practically impossible to completely prevent oneself from the common cold because of various external factors such as the environment and the people around you. However, there are a few steps by which we can try to prevent ourselves and our families from getting infected by certain viruses seasonally or repeatedly.

Wash your hands regularly

This is one of the best and the safest way to prevent from common cold. It is important to wash your hands, especially when visiting public areas and touching commonly exposed items such as doorknobs staircase supports etc.

If you frequently wash your hands, it helps to destroy the viruses that you may have come in contact with due to proximity with an affected person. Whenever you go to a public place, you must remember to carry a hand sanitizer so that it helps to kill viruses and various other pathogens (germs), even if you may have come in contact with them. Also, it is strongly recommended to teach your children the importance of washing hands.

If you come in contact with an affected person or any affected surface in a public place, it is advisable to avoid touching the area around the nose, mouth, and eyes. By doing this you actually lower the chances of the virus on your hands entering your body.

The smoke from cigarettes along with the tar irritates the airway passage and increases the probability of catching the common cold and other lung diseases. You may be surprised but even inhaling the smoke (passively) may also affect you and your children and make them more prone to contracting common cold.

You are recommended to encourage your family members to use disposable utensils and toiletries when affected by the common cold. This will lower the chances of the entire family getting exposed to the virus causing the common cold

Dry your hands with paper towels in the kitchen and the bathroom:

Studies confirm that infections may stay on cloth towels for several days. Hence, it is highly advisable to maintain hygiene and keep washing the hand towels frequently. It goes without saying that alternatively there should be a separate towel for each member of the family, and a separate clean towel for guests.

Additionally, if you are infected, you are strongly recommended to properly dispose of any tissue paper you use in the toilet. If tissue paper is not disposed of properly after use, it may lead to the breeding of the virus.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle:

Researchers suggest that healthy nutritious food along with exercise can help prevent the common cold because it helps in boosting immunity. It is equally important to maintain a healthy lifestyle (proper sleep, healthy nutrition, exercise) so that your immune system can effectively fight infectious viruses.

Lower your stress levels:

Researchers suggest that there is a strong connection between stressful conditions and people with emotional imbalance having weaker immune systems. They easily fall prey to infectious viruses. Hence you are recommended to find ways to de-stress yourself and keep tensions and stress at bay.

Diagnosis of Common Cold

People hardly visit the doctor for diagnosing common cold. But when the symptoms worsen, visiting the doctor becomes necessary for the identification of the nature of viral infection, its symptoms and its diagnosis. In case the symptoms persist for a week or more, you are highly recommended to get a blood test done (basic blood count test or CBC) and consult the doctor without any further delay. Your doctor will help you detect whether it is the common cold or any other infection.

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If you have been diagnosed with a common cold, then you should expect the virus to stay in your body for a duration of seven to ten days. Health specialists suggest that a condition like flu may also get cured within 7 days. However, if the symptoms do not subside within a week it may be due to some other pathogen (germs) invading your body’s system.

To find out whether the symptoms are of flu or common cold, your doctors may suggest you get blood tests done. Since the symptoms of both diseases (flu and common cold) are so similar, the correct diagnosis will help you to ascertain the correct line of treatment and ensure quick relief.

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Common Cold Treatment

There is no specific treatment for common cold. Your doctor may recommend multivitamins to help deal and cope with it. The treatment focuses on two main areas

  • To make you feel better
  • To help your body to fight the virus effectively.

Physicians suggest a lot of resting during the treatment of common cold.

  • You are recommended to take proper sleep for 10-12 hours at night.
  • You are highly recommended to keep yourself hydrated so drink water as much as you can. By doing so it will help the phlegm (mucus) to dissolve and reduce the blockage in the throat.
  • As you may already know that there is no specific medicine which can treat common cold. But by treating the symptoms of common cold effectively results in giving the affected person ample relief.
  • For children who have a fever with body temperature 100.5F or more along with body pain, paracetamol is recommended by physicians. You are urged to not take any medicine without consulting your doctor first.
  • For adults suffering from fever and body ache, paracetamol can be safely taken after consulting a physician. If fever persists for more than a days, then blood tests may be required to ascertain and rule out other diseases.
  • To treat throat pain, a cup of hot saline (salty) water can be used for gargle to bring relief.

Specific classes of medicines such as pseudoephedrine help in clearing the nasal passage and throat passage. Decongestant (nose spray) such as oxymetazoline are also found to be extremely helpful in helping patients cope with common cold. However, health specialists also suggest that these decongestants should not be used for more than 3-5 days since this may result in blockage and show a rebound effect along with side effects. This means that there is a possibility that more congestion can happen with the formation of phlegm (mucus) in the nose and throat and there will be an increase in the blockage in the throat. Research also hints that pseudoephedrine can also lead to an increase in the blood pressure and make the heart beat faster. Antibiotics are prescribed only if your doctor suspects a bacterial infection.

We strongly recommend you to not self-medicate and to consult a doctor especially if you are suffering from heart problems, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and thyroid conditions.

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Common Cold Complications

Common Cold usually clears out without causing any serious health hazard. A visit to a doctor may not even be necessary in most cases. However, if the symptoms persist for 10 days or more, there may be an underlying condition that needs to be addressed, or in rare cases, it could trigger another problem such as acute bronchitis or an asthma attack. Here are some of the conditions that can be a result of untreated or persistent common cold:

  • Acute Ear Infection
    Is a painful condition in which fluids fill up near the eardrum regions causing fluid leakage from the ears and discomfort. It is often accompanied by fever and goes away between 1-2 weeks. Hot compresses are recommended and there could be a possibility for the condition to aggravate if left untreated. Topical medicines (ear drops) are prescribed to children to bring some relief. In some cases, the doctor also recommends certain painkillers and antibiotics to control the infection.
  • Acute Sinusitis
    This is the infection of the sinus cave (back of the eye sockets, nasal passage, and cheeks) accompanied by pain, blocked nose, fever, sore throat, loss of taste and bad breath. If left untreated could lead to viruses and bacterias trapped in the sinus passage causing a lengthy treatment procedure.  
  • Asthma Attack
    This condition is particularly characterised by the sudden constriction of the airway passage which leads to breathing difficulties. It has been observed that the lining of the airway passage undergoes inflammation causing severe troubles in breathing. Doctors recommend immediate medications such as (inhalers) to treat asthmatic attacks. If you or anyone near you are experiencing asthma attack do not hesitate to call your doctor or hospitalise immediately.
  • Pneumonia
    As the name suggests pneumonia is caused by bacteria called streptococcus pneumonia which causes infection in the lung and swells the airway sacs of the one or both the lungs. This condition needs immediate medical attention. Pneumonia is often accompanied by a severe cough, phlegm(mucus), fever, chest pain and shortness of breath. You are urged not ignore symptoms especially if you are having pneumonia along with asthma.
  • Acute bronchitis
    Acute bronchitis is caused by certain viruses the most common symptoms are cough, sore throat, chest pain and breathing difficulties. Acute bronchitis may last for a few weeks or longer. Usually, a doctor recommends an x-ray to diagnose acute bronchitis and rule out any other underlying condition.


  1. National Health Service [Internet] NHS inform; Scottish Government; Common Cold
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Common Cold and Runny Nose
  3. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Common Cold
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others
  5. Ronald B. Turner. Rhinovirus: More than Just a Common Cold Virus . The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 195, Issue 6, 15 March 2007, Pages 765–766. [Internet] Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Medicines for Common Cold

Medicines listed below are available for Common Cold. Please note that you should not take any medicines without doctor consultation. Taking any medicine without doctor's consultation can cause serious problems.