Common cold – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

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The common cold is common worldwide. Everyone might experience cold at least twice a year. Do we really know what is common cold and what causes it? You will find your answers as you read through the article. 


Suffering from fever

A cold is caused by a virus that inflames the membranes lining the nose and throat.

An NCBI article titled ‘The common cold’ defines the common cold, also known as upper respiratory tract infection (URI), as a self-limiting upper airway viral infection that may also affect the lower respiratory tract.

Over 200 viruses are said to cause a minor nose, and a throat infection called a cold. Rhinovirus is said to be the most common cause of the common cold, accounting for 10 to 40% of all cases. 

A cold usually lasts up to a week. It may last longer for people with a weak immune system or poor health, such as children and the elderly. 

Adults get two to four colds annually, mostly between September and May. Young children get six to eight colds per year on average.

The common cold is highly contagious. It is frequently spread through airborne droplets that the sick person coughs or sneezes into the air. These droplets can be inhaled as well.

They are most commonly spread when droplets of fluid containing a cold virus are touched. 

Though more colds occur during the winter months, cold weather does not cause a cold.

Symptoms of the common cold

The symptoms of cold vary for each person, but the most common symptoms are:

Runny nose

A runny nose is caused when the mucus drip or runs from the nose. The nose becomes runny when mucus secretions are excessive.

Sore throat

A sore throat is characterised by irritation or pain of the throat that worsens while swallowing. 

Breathing through the mouth is usually noticed in people with chronic nasal congestion, which results in a dry and sore throat. Dry air, especially during the harsh, cold winter days, could be the source of sore throat. 


A cough is the expulsion of air through the breathing passages that can help clear mucus and other irritants. During a cold, the mucus drips from the nose into the throat, causing a cough

Nasal congestion or stuffy nose

A stuffy nose occurs from swelling of the nasal tissues and blood vessels due to excess fluid. 

The viruses that cause the common cold frequently enter the body through the nose. They begin to multiply once inside the lining of the nasal passages. The body’s reaction to the virus infection causes inflammation, which results in nasal congestion.

Slight body aches

The immune system is overworked during a cold, a virus, or a bacterial infection. To combat the infection, it releases white blood cells. The reaction causes inflammation, which can cause muscle aches and pains.


A person Sneezing

Sneezes protect the body by clearing bacteria and viruses from the nose. 

When something enters the nose, or a person comes in contact with a trigger that activates the brain’s “sneeze centre,” located in the lower brain stem, signals are rapidly sent to tightly close the eyes, throat and mouth. 

After that, the chest muscles contract vigorously, followed by a rapid relaxation of the throat muscles. As a result, air, saliva and mucus are forced out of the mouth and nose.


Respiratory infections like the common cold are one of the most common causes of a persistent low-grade fever. In such cases, the body’s temperature naturally rises to combat the infection-causing agents like bacteria or viruses.

Generally feeling unwell

When an individual has a common cold, their immune system is to blame for the symptoms as they trigger the following reactions that make a person feel unwell. 

  • The blood vessels dilate and leak fluid
  • Mucous gland secretion increases, causing a runny nose
  • The sneeze and cough reflexes are activated
  • Finally, pain nerve fibres are stimulated, causing aches.

Risk factors of the common cold

Certain factors, such as environmental factors that make it easier for viruses to spread and medical conditions that impair the body’s ability to protect itself, can increase the chances of getting a cold.

Younger children

Younger children below six are more susceptible to catching a cold. Their immune system is not mature or resistant to many viruses, making them more prone to the common cold. 

They also frequently come in contact with other children who may be infected with viruses.

Having a weak immune system

Colds can be caused by a weakened immune system due to stress. 

Stress reduces the number of lymphocytes in the body, which are white blood cells that help the body fight infection. 

The lower the lymphocyte levels, the more vulnerable a person is to viruses such as the common cold.

Seasonal factors

There is a popular belief that cold is expected during the winter season. The fact that more people are indoors and close to each other during the cold season may explain the increased incidence of colds. 

Also, while the cold air may make a person feel sicker, it is the presence of the virus and germs that cause illnesses. Viruses multiply better and are more stable in low temperatures and dry conditions, which is why they thrive in the winter.

Close contact with someone with cold

Cold viruses can spread from infected people to others via the air and close personal contact. 

Treatments for the common cold

There are no treatments that directly fight cold viruses. The majority of people recover on their own in about two weeks. Symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter medications and home remedies.

Pain relievers

According to an article titled ‘Common colds: Relief for a stuffy nose, cough and sore throat’, cold-related symptoms such as headache, ear pain and joint pain can be relieved by pain relievers such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), ibuprofen and acetaminophen. These pain relievers can also help to lower a fever.

Decongestant nasal sprays

Nasal sprays for common cold

Decongestant nasal sprays or drops can help relieve a runny or stuffy nose and make breathing easier. The more frequently the medication is used, the less strong is the effect. 

There are many types of decongestants with various active ingredients. They may cause side effects such as allergic reactions, dry nose or headaches.

Cough syrups

Cold and cough medications can help alleviate the symptoms of the common cold. Cough syrups help relieve sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and coughing due to a cold.

Prevention of common cold

Avoiding close contact with anyone having cold

Cold viruses spread through close personal and prolonged contact. So, it is advisable to maintain distance from infected individuals to prevent cold.

Following a healthy and varied diet

A healthy diet high in vitamins and minerals may help avoid a cold. 

The following foods help in treating and also preventing colds.


Sneezing is an integral part of the immune system, as it keeps us healthy and free of sniffles. Sneezing protects the body by clearing bacteria and viruses from the nose.

Washing hands

Hand washing helps prevent illnesses and the spread of infectious diseases to others. Washing hands regularly with soap for a minimum of 20 seconds helps lower respiratory infections such as colds.

Keeping surfaces at work and home clean

Cleaning with soap or detergent-based cleaner reduces the amount of germs on surfaces and the risk of infection from surfaces.

Avoiding touching the face

To prevent colds, refraining from touching the face with unwashed hands must be the primary step as the face is the most common way for pathogens to enter the body. 

When to see a doctor?

Most cold viruses last seven to ten days in the body. A cold lasting longer than two weeks could be a sign of bacterial infection.

One can visit a doctor if one or more of the following symptoms are noticed.

  • Pain while breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Symptoms that deteriorate or do not improve
  • Fever lasting more than three days. Temperature higher than 101.3 F (38.5 C).


The common cold is the most common illness, bringing sneezing, scratchy throat and runny nose. Colds spread most easily in groups of people who are in constant contact. 

Colds are mostly treated with pain relievers, cough syrups and decongestant nasal spray. Staying at home, resting, drinking plenty of fluids, gargling with salt water and taking an OTC medication are the best ways to combat a cold fast.


How long should you stay home if you have a common cold? 

It is impractical for most people to stay home for days or weeks until all symptoms have subsided. It’s best to stay at home for the duration of the illness, which is about two to four days for a severe cold.

What is the cure for the common cold? 

The common cold has no treatment. Most cases of the common cold improve without treatment within a week to ten days. The most important thing one can do is look after themselves while the body heals.

Can I take antibiotics to cure my cold? 

Antibiotics are usually ineffective against colds because they only fight bacteria, not viruses.

How do I prevent a cold immediately? 

Only over-the-counter medications can help treat a cold instantly. Acetylsalicylic acid, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen work best for cold and cold-related symptoms. 

 What is one of the best possible ways to prevent colds? 

Staying healthy by eating nutritious food can help prevent colds. Adequate sleep and rest are essential for the immunity to work best. 


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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