What exactly is a common cold?
The common cold or viral rhinitis is an upper respiratory infection caused by several types of viruses. It is one of the most common infectious diseases affecting humans. Over 200 types of viruses have been identified that cause the common cold.
- Most colds are caused by viruses belonging to the rhinovirus family.
- Other common causes of a cold include coronavirus (COVID-19), adenovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
- Most people with a common cold recover in about 7 to 10 days.
There are millions of cases of the common cold each year in the United States. It is one of the main reasons for children missing school and for adults missing work. Children are affected more commonly with a cold than adults who may have an average of two to three colds each year. One can avoid getting a cold by following hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with sick people, and not touching the face with unwashed hands. Although most people catch a common cold in winter and spring, it is possible to get a cold at any time during the year. There is no evidence whether going out in cold weather can make someone more vulnerable to catch a common cold.
What are the first signs of a common cold?
Typical symptoms of a common cold include
What are the different stages of a common cold?
A common cold may typically follow a certain pattern of progression. The typical pattern, however, may not be experienced by everyone who gets a cold. The typical stages of a common cold are as follows
- Stage 1 (incubation period): This refers to the stage between the infection by a cold virus and the development of symptoms. This stage may last for one to three days, although for some it may be as short as 10 to 12 hours.
- Stage 2 (appearance and progression of symptoms): In this stage, symptoms begin and reach their peak intensity. The symptoms of a cold generally peak in one to three days. Typical cold symptoms include a sore throat, sneezing, cough, a stuffy nose, a runny nose (clear, watery discharge from the nose), feeling sick, headache, body ache and fever. Fever is more commonly seen in children.
- Stage 3 (stage of remission): This stage is marked by a decline and eventual fading of cold symptoms. The symptoms usually subside between 3 and 10 days. After two to three days of the appearance of symptoms, the discharge from the nose may appear white, yellow or green. This change in color is normal and does not mean that antibiotics are needed.
- Stage 4 (stage of recovery): In this stage, the person feels normal and gets on their feet. There may be some lingering symptoms such as mild cough, stuffy nose and scanty nasal discharge. Such mild symptoms may last up to two weeks in some people. They can be easily managed by appropriate over-the-counter (OTC) medications and a healthy diet.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Harvard Medical School
Top Common Cold Stages and Timeline of Symptoms Related Articles
Cold & Flu QuizAches? Pain? Fever? This Cold & Flu Quiz tests your knowledge on the difference between coming down with the common cold and sickness from influenza virus.
Cold and Cough Medicine for Infants and Children
The safety of giving infants and children over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicine is important for caregivers to understand. While there is no "gold standard" recommendation for giving infants and children OTC cold and cough medicine for fever, aches, cough, and runny nose, a few standards have been recommended.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that OTC cold and cough medicine only be used in children age four years and older.
The American College of Chest Physicians recommend that these medicines only be used in children age 15 years and older.
The FDA recommends that OTC cold and cough medicine be used in children 2 years of age and older.
However, there is agreement in regard to which OTC medications should not be used in children under the age of four (or the age of two, depending upon which guidelines are used), and they are 1) certain antihistamines like brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine maleate, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl); 2) cough expectorants (guaifenesin); 3) cough suppressants (dextromethorphan, DM); and 4) decongestants (pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine).
Aspirin should never be given to infants, children, and adolescents due to the possibility of a rare, but often severe and even fatal illness called Reye's syndrome.
FDA. "Most Young Children with a Cough or Cold Don't Need Medicines." July 18, 2017.
FDA. "Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids." Updated: Nov 04, 2016.
Cold vs. FluThough the common cold and flu share many signs and symptoms, they are caused by different viruses. Signs and symptoms include sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, and cough. Treatment options for the cold and flu are similar and focus on reducing symptoms. Doctors may prescribe antivirals/neuraminidase inhibitors for the flu.
Cold, Flu, Allergy TreatmentsBefore treating a cold, the flu, or allergies with over-the-counter (OTC) medications, it's important to know what's causing the symptoms, which symptoms one wishes to relieve, and the active ingredients in the OTC product. Taking products that only contain the medications needed for relieving your symptoms prevents ingestion of unnecessary medications and reduces the chances of side effects.
Common ColdThe common cold (viral upper respiratory tract infection) is a contagious illness that may be caused by various viruses. Symptoms include a stuffy nose, headache, cough, sore throat, and maybe a fever. Antibiotics have no effect upon the common cold, and there is no evidence that zinc and vitamin C are effective treatments.
Cold Prevention SlidesThe common cold is arguably the most common human illness. Learn how long the common cold lasts, treatment for the common cold and ways to prevent it.
Common Cold QuizTake this quiz to learn the truth behind the infectious, contagious, uncomfortable disease known as the common cold. Test your knowledge of colds; get prevention tips, and learn what you may want to avoid when treating a cold!
Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, and ColdsIf you have a COPD such as emphysema, avoiding chronic bronchitis and colds is important to avoid a more severe respiratory infection such as pneumonia. Avoiding cigarette smoking, practice good hygeine, stay away from crowds, and alerting your healthcare provider if you have a sinus infection or cold or cough that becomes worse. Treatment options depend upon the severity of the emphysema, bronchitis, or cold combination.
Foods for the FluThe best foods to eat when you have the flu soothe symptoms and help you feel better faster. Good foods to eat with the flu include popsicles, turkey, vegetable juice, chicken soup, garlic, ginger, hot tea, bananas, toast, meal replacement drinks, oranges, pumpkin seeds, and carrots.
How Long Is a Cold or Flu Contagious?Viruses cause the common cold and the flu. Early symptoms and signs for a cold and the flu are similar, however, flu symptoms are typically more severe than cold symptoms. Cold and flu viruses are transmitted typically via coughing or sneezing.
Adenovirus 14 (Killer Cold Virus)Adenovirus infection, particularly Ad14, or the "killer cold virus" has been on the increase in the past two years. Symptoms range from those experienced with colds, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, pinkeye, fever, bladder infection, and neurological conditions. Diagnosis and treatment options need to be discussed with your physician.
Nasal IrrigationClogged sinuses and congestion bothering you? Nasal irrigation can relieve sinus symptoms associated with colds and allergies. Learn how to do nasal irrigation with this visual guide from WebMD.
Natural Cold & Flu RemediesWhat natural remedies work for the flu and common cold? Many claim cold symptoms and flu symptoms can be relieved with Echinacea, zinc, neti pots, garlic, vitamin C, saltwater gargles, nasal strips, or bed rest. Find out what cold and flu treatments work the natural way, and what doesn't.
Panniculitis from Cold PictureLocal exposure to cold leads to the formation of ice crystals within cells. Injury to cell contents occurs during both cooling and thawing. See a picture of Panniculitis from Cold and learn more about the health topic.
Diabetes and Safe Medications for Colds and the Flu: OTC Medication GuideIf you have diabetes and catch a cold or the flu, can be more difficult to recover from infections and their complications, for example, pneumonia. Home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs used for the treatment of the signs and symptoms of colds and the flu may affect blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Some medications are OK to take if you have diabetes get a cold or the flu include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin) to control symptoms of fever and pain. Most cough syrups are safe to take; however, check with your pediatrician to see what medications are safe to give your child if he or she has type 1 or 2 diabetes.
If you have diabetes and are sick with a cold or flu, you need to check your blood sugar levels more frequently. Continue taking your regular medications. Eat a diabetic low-glycemic index diet rich in antioxidants.
To prevent colds and the flu drink at least eight 8 ounce glasses of water a day. To replenish fluids, drink sports drinks like Gatorade and Pedialyte to replenish electrolytes. Avoid people who are sick, sneezing, coughing, or have other symptoms of a cold or flu.
How to Differentiate Between the Signs and Symptoms of COVID-19, Allergies, Cold, and Flu?Coronavirus disease or COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Most people with COVID-19 will experience a mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without the need for intensive or special treatment. Serious illness is more likely in elderly people and those with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer.
Sinus Infection vs. ColdViruses cause the common cold and most sinus infections. Bacterial and fungal infections may also cause a sinus infection. Signs and symptoms of colds and sinus infections include nasal irritation or dryness, sore throat, stuffy nose, nasal discharge/congestion, sneezing, and cough. Additional symptoms of sinus infections include sinus pressure behind the cheeks or eyes, facial pain when pressure is applied, bad breath, and thick yellow or green mucus. Treatment focuses on symptom relief.