Site Map

Common cold

Upper respiratory infection - viral; Cold

The common cold most often causes a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing. You may also have a sore throat, cough, headache, or other symptoms.

Images

Throat anatomy
Cold symptoms
Antibodies
Cold remedies

I Would Like to Learn About:

Causes

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:

People are most contagious for the first 2 to 3 days of a cold. A cold is most often not contagious after the first week.

Symptoms

Cold symptoms usually start about 2 or 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:

Adults and older children with colds generally have a low fever or no fever. Young children often run a fever around 100 to 102°F (37.7 to 38.8°C).

Depending on which virus caused your cold, you may also have:

Treatment

Most colds go away in a few days. Some things you can do to take care of yourself with a cold include:

Outlook (Prognosis)

The fluid from your runny nose will become thicker and may turn yellow or green within a few days. This is normal, and not a reason for antibiotics.

Most cold symptoms go away within a week in most cases. If you still feel sick after 7 days, see your provider to rule out a sinus infection, allergies, or other medical problem.

Possible Complications

Colds are the most common trigger of wheezing in children with asthma.

A cold may also lead to:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Try treating your cold at home first. Call your health care provider if:

Prevention

To lower your chances of getting sick:

The immune system helps your body fight off infection. Here are ways to support the immune system:

Related Information

Bronchitis - acute
Pneumonia - adults (community acquired)
Otitis
Sinusitis
Allergic rhinitis - what to ask your doctor - adult
Allergic rhinitis - what to ask your doctor - child
Colds and the flu - what to ask your doctor - adult
Colds and the flu - what to ask your doctor - child

References

Fashner J, Ericson K, Werner S. Treatment of the common cold in children and adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(2):153-9. PMID: 22962927 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22962927.

Singh M, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD001364. PMID: 23775705 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23775705.

Turner RB. The common cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 369.

BACK TO TOP

Review Date: 1/31/2015  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, medical director and director of didactic curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2016 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com