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Common Cold

Understanding the 
Common Cold


Everything you need to know
about The Common Cold

A stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and a scratchy, sore throat are the early symptoms of a common cold. Because the common colds are so frequent, most individuals readily recognise these early symptoms. Adults, on average, get two to three colds per year.

The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract. More than 200 viruses can cause a cold. Rhinoviruses are the most frequent.

These viruses can quickly transfer from one person to another or from one surface to another. Many of these viruses can survive for hours or even days on surfaces.

While you may be familiar with the common cold, there are several things you should know about it that can help you feel better, avoid future colds, and even prevent the virus from spreading to others. Continue reading to learn more.

What are cold symptoms?

Cold symptoms usually occur 1 to 3 days after being exposed to a cold-causing virus. Cold symptoms rarely emerge out of nowhere.

Symptoms in the nose include:

  • Congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Sneezing
  • Watery nasal discharge
  • Drainage in the back of your throat (postnasal drip)

Symptoms affecting the head include:

Symptoms affecting the body include:

A cold’s symptoms usually last around 7 to 10 days. Symptoms usually peak around day 5 and then progressively fade.

If your symptoms intensify after a week or don’t go away after roughly 10 days, you may have a different problem and should visit a doctor.

Common Cold Diagnosis

A trip to the doctor’s office is rarely necessary to diagnose a simple common cold. Recognizing the symptoms of a common cold is frequently enough to determine your diagnosis.

Make an appointment with a doctor if your symptoms worsen or persist for longer than 10 days. You could be suffering from a separate health problem, which your doctor will be able to identify.

If you have a cold, it will take roughly 7 to 10 days for the virus to leave your system.

If your doctor diagnoses you with a cold, you’ll probably just need to treat your symptoms until the virus has passed. Over-the-counter (OTC) cold drugs, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest are some of the therapies available.

If you have the flu, it may take the same amount of time to fully recover as a cold. However, if your symptoms worsen after day 5, or if you don’t feel better after a week, you should see your doctor, since you may have developed another ailment.

If you have the flu, using an antiviral flu medicine early in the virus’ cycle may be beneficial. Flu patients should also get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water. The flu, like the typical cold, requires some time to pass through your body.

Find out how to diagnose a cold.

What’s the difference between the flu and a Common cold?

At first glance, the common cold and the flu may appear to be extremely similar. They are both respiratory infections with symptoms that are comparable. These two illnesses are caused by distinct viruses, and your symptoms will help you distinguish between them.

Knowing the difference between cold and flu symptoms can help you figure out how to treat your illness, and whether or not you need to consult a doctor.

Symptom onset Gradual (1–3 days) Sudden
Symptom severity Mild to Moderate Moderate to Severe
Fever Rare Common
Headache Rare Common
Sore Throat Common Occasionally
Aches Mild Moderate to Severe
Chills Uncommon Common
Cough & Chest discomfort Mild to Moderate Moderate to Severe
Sneezing Common Occasionally
Upset stomach and Vomiting Rare Occasionally
Complications Rare Occasionally

Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms.

Another significant distinction between the two is their seriousness. Colds rarely lead to other health issues or difficulties. The flu, on the other hand, can cause problems such as:

  • Infections of the sinuses and ears
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis

When to call a doctor

Colds can be extremely unpleasant. If you have a cold, though, you are unlikely to need to see your doctor.

The majority of cold viruses will pass through your body in 7 to 10 days. The worst symptoms appear 5 days after you first notice them. As unpleasant as it may be, treating a common cold using over-the-counter drugs and home cures is usually the best option.

However, there are times when you should seek medical attention for your cold symptoms. Consider seeking medical help in the following circumstances:

  • Symptoms are severe or getting worse. It’s time to consult a doctor if your symptoms appear more severe than usual (for example, a cough or headaches that are worse than usual).
  • Persistent symptoms. Make an appointment with your doctor if your cold symptoms linger longer than 10 days.
  • Breathing problems. If you’re having trouble breathing or have shortness of breath, seek medical attention immediately away.
  • Fever that is persistent or high. See a doctor if your temperature is greater than 39.4°C (103°F) or if your child has a fever of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher. If you or your child has had a fever of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher for more than 3 days, seek medical attention.
  • Symptoms in an infant under three-month-old. If your child has symptoms of a cold, such as lethargy or a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher, visit a doctor immediately.
  • Medical conditions that are high risk. You should consult your doctor if your cold persists and you are in a high-risk medical category. You may be at risk of complications if you have something other than a cold. The following medical conditions are high-risk:Children under the age of five  |  adults over 60  |  pregnant women  |  those suffering from medical issues such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease

Adult Treatment

A viral infection of the upper respiratory tract causes the common cold. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. Most viruses, such as the common cold, simply need to run their course. You can treat the signs and symptoms of an illness, but not the infection itself.

(OTC) Over-the-counter medications and home remedies are the two main types of cold treatments.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications

The following are the most prevalent over-the-counter cold medications:

  • Decongestants. Nasal decongestants relieve nasal congestion and stuffiness.
  • Antihistamines. Antihistamines relieve runny nose symptoms and prevent sneezing.
  • Anti-inflammatories. Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) that can aid with body aches, inflammation, and fever symptoms.

A mixture of these medicines is sometimes included in common cold treatments. If you use one, make sure you read the label and understand what you’re taking so you don’t accidentally take more of any one class of drug than you should.

The following are the most common side effects of over-the-counter cold medications:

  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Before using any OTC cold drugs, talk to your doctor if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Medications that restrict blood arteries and reduce blood flow can help ease symptoms. High blood pressure can cause problems with blood flow throughout the body.

Home remedies

Home cures for the common cold, like OTC cold medicines, do not cure or treat a cold. Instead, they can help you manage your symptoms and make them less intense.

The following are some of the most effective and popular cold home remedies:

  • Use saltwater to gargle. Gargling with salt water might help coat your throat and relieve inflammation.
  • Getting enough water. Staying hydrated aids in the replacement of lost fluids as well as the relief of congestion.
  • Vapour rub. Topical vapour rub ointments expand your airways and relieve congestion.
  • Getting plenty of sleep. Getting enough rest allows your body to conserve energy and allow the virus to take its course.
  • Use soothing Lozenges. If used at the beginning of your cold symptoms, zinc lozenges may help to shorten the duration of your symptoms.
  • Echinacea. In some circumstances, evidence suggests that echinacea can help shorten the duration of a cold.

Learn about more home remedies for cold symptoms.

Unless a GP or pharmacist advises otherwise, children under the age of six should avoid over-the-counter cough and cold medications, including decongestants since these drugs have the potential to induce serious and life-threatening adverse effects.

These home remedies may be able to help relieve a child’s cold symptoms:

  • Rest. When a child has a cold, they may be more sleepy and cranky than usual. Allow them to stay home from school and rest until their cold passes.
  • Hydration. It’s critical for youngsters with a cold to drink plenty of water. Colds can quickly dehydrate them. Make sure they’re getting enough water. Warm beverages, such as tea, honey and lemon, might help ease a sore throat.
  • Food. Children who are sick may not be as hungry as usual, so find ways to provide them with food and drinks. Smoothies and soups are two excellent choices.
  • Gargle with saltwater. Gargling with warm, salty water isn’t the most pleasant feeling, but it can help ease sore throats. Nasal sprays with saline can also assist to alleviate nasal congestion.
  • Baths that are warm. A warm bath might help relieve minor aches and pains associated with a cold.
  • A humidifier with a cool mist. A cool-mist humidifier can aid in the reduction of nasal congestion. A warm mist humidifier should not be used since it might create swelling in the nasal passages, making breathing more difficult.
  • Bulb syringe. Clearing the nasal passages with a bulb syringe works wonderfully for newborns. Bulb syringes are usually resisted by older children.

Learn more about how to treat a child’s cold.

What is the average duration of a cold?

The usual common cold lasts between 7 and 10 days, however, it can last up to 2 weeks. Symptoms may last longer or shorter depending on your general health. People who smoke or have asthma, for example, may suffer symptoms for longer periods of time.

Make an appointment to visit a doctor if your symptoms do not improve or subside within 7 to 10 days. It’s also vital to visit a doctor if your symptoms worsen after 5 days.

Symptoms that persist or worsen could indicate a larger problem, such as the flu or strep throat.

Learn more about what to expect during the course of your cold.

When you have a cold, what foods should you eat?

You may not feel like eating while you’re unwell, but your body still requires the energy that food offers. The meals listed below may help you recover faster from a cold:

You may not feel like eating while you’re unwell, but your body still requires the energy that food offers. The meals listed below may help you recover faster from a cold:

Soup with chicken noodles

Salty soup is a traditional “treatment” for a variety of ailments. It’s particularly beneficial for colds. Warm liquids can help free up your sinuses, making it easier to breathe, and the salt in the soup can help soothe sore throat tissue.

Hot tea

Tea and other warm beverages are excellent for colds. Honey can help with cough relief. Ginger slices may also help to relieve congestion and inflammation. However, avoid coffee if possible. Caffeine can cause prescription interactions and raise your risk of dehydration.


Yoghurt is high in beneficial microorganisms that can help your intestinal health. A healthy gut microbiome can help your body battle a variety of illnesses and ailments, including the common cold.

Ice Lollies

Ice Lollies, like hot tea, can help numb and relieve the pain of a sore throat. Make your own “smoothie” pop with yoghurt, fruit, and natural liquids.

When you have a cold, the most important thing to remember is to remain hydrated. Regularly consume water or warm tea. While recuperating from a cold, stay away from coffee and alcohol. Both can aggravate your cold symptoms.

Learn more about how to treat a sore throat by eating and drinking the right foods.

Common Cold risk factors

Certain factors can make you more susceptible to developing a cold. Among them are:

  • The season. Colds can strike at any time of year, but they’re more common in the fall and winter, as well as during wetter months. When it’s chilly and rainy outside, we spend more time inside, increasing the risk of the virus spreading.
  • Age. Colds are more common in children under the age of six. If they’re in a nursery or a childcare facility with other children, their risk is significantly higher.
  • Environment. You’re more likely to catch rhinoviruses if you’re in a crowd, such as on a plane or at a concert.
  • A compromised immune system is weakened. You may be more susceptible to catching a cold if you have a chronic condition or have recently been sick.
  • Smoking. People who smoke are more likely to acquire a cold, and their colds are usually more severe.
  • Sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation or irregularity can impair your immune system, making you more susceptible to cold viruses.

Learn more about the variables that can cause a cold.

How to prevent a cold

Colds are a very minor ailment, but they’re bothersome and can make you feel horrible.

Colds cannot be prevented with a vaccine like the flu. However, there are a few crucial things you can do throughout the cold season to help you from contracting a cold virus:

  • Hands should be washed. Stopping the spread of germs is as simple as washing your hands with soap and water. When you can’t get to a sink, use alcohol-based hand sanitiser gels and sprays as a last resort.
  • Avoid ill people. This is the primary reason why sick people should not work or attend school. In close quarters, such as workplaces or classrooms, germs spread quickly. If you realise someone isn’t feeling well, avoid them at all costs. If you come into contact with them, wash your hands immediately.
  • Take good care of your stomach. Take a regular probiotic supplement or eat plenty of bacteria-rich foods like yoghurt. Maintaining a healthy gut bacteria might benefit your overall health.
  • Avoid touching your face. Cold viruses can dwell on your body without making you sick, but they will make you sick if you contact your mouth, nose, or eyes with contaminated hands. If you must touch your face, do so after washing your hands.

Check out more tips for cold prevention.

How to Protect others

If you have a cold, to protect others:

  • Hands should be washed. Washing your hands not only protects you but also others. Washing your hands reduces the chance of the virus spreading across your house, school, or job.
  • Remain at home. If you or your child is sick, stay at home as much as possible. You’ll need the rest, and it will help prevent the illness from spreading to others.
  • Avoid contact. While it may be tempting to show love to someone, you should avoid embracing, kissing, or shaking hands with them while you’re unwell. Try an elbow bump if you have to welcome someone.
  • Cough into your elbow. If you start to sneeze or cough, grab a tissue to cover your mouth. Sneeze or cough into your elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue. If you use your hands by accident, wash them straight away.
  • Regularly disinfect. If you or someone in your household is sick, get a container of disinfectant wipes and clean all high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, kitchen counters, appliances, and remote controls.


The common cold is exactly what it sounds like. Adults, on average, get two to three colds every year. As a result, most people recognise a cold as soon as symptoms appear.

Colds may be pretty unpleasant. A runny or stuffy nose, headache, cough, and a loss of smell or taste can all contribute to a miserable few days. However, most people will begin to feel better within 7 to 10 days.

There are no cold cures or treatments available. The cold is a virus that must be allowed to run its course until it is no longer contagious. OTC drugs to relieve congestion or sneezing are among the treatments for a typical cold. Rest and hydration can also help your body recover from a cold, as can home cures such as salt gargles.

A cold can sometimes be confused with other upper respiratory diseases or infections like the flu. Make an appointment to visit a doctor if your symptoms become more severe or do not improve within a week.