Common Cold

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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 cough, sore throat, sneezing, and 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.

What is the common cold, and what causes it?

The common cold is a self-limited contagious illness that can be caused by a number of different types of viruses. The common cold is medically referred to as a viral upper respiratory tract infection. Symptoms of the common cold may include cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing. More than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause the common cold, with rhinovirus causing approximately 30%-35% of all adult colds. Other commonly implicated viruses include coronavirus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and parainfluenza virus. Because so many different viruses can cause the common cold and because new cold viruses constantly develop, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. For this reason, colds are a frequent and recurring problem. In fact, children in preschool and elementary school can have six to 12 colds per year while adolescents and adults typically have two to four colds per year. The common cold occurs most frequently during the fall and winter months.

The common cold is the most frequently occurring illness in the world, and it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work. It is estimated that individuals in the United States suffer 1 billion colds per year, with approximately 22 million days of school absences recorded annually. In the United States, the common cold is thought to account for approximately 75-100 million physician visits annually, with an economic impact of greater than $20 billion per year due to cold-related work loss.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/15/2014

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