The Common Cold

Causes, Symptoms, Treatment Options for the Common Cold

Young girl blowing her nose
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The common cold, also referred to as an upper respiratory infection or viral illness, is caused by more than 200 different viruses. It occurs year-round, although it is more common during winter months. The common cold affects people of all ages. That said, children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to cold-causing viruses.

What Causes the Common Cold?

There are more than 200 different types of viruses that cause the symptoms referred to as the common cold.

The most common viruses include rhinovirus, coxsackievirus and coronavirus. Because there are so many viruses responsible for symptoms, there many never be a cure.

You can contract a cold through personal contact or through the air. For example, if you touch someone or something - such as a doorknob or telephone - that is infected with a cold virus, and then touch your eyes, mouth or an open wound, you can become infected with the virus, too. You can also inhale the droplets of a cold virus through the air when someone coughs or sneezes.

The Common Cold: What to Expect

Every cold is different, but there are certain symptoms that are very common. After symptoms first appear, they gradually get worse over the next few days. The common cold can leave you feeling run down and tired, but they usually aren't severe enough to completely knock you off of your feet. Symptoms typically last 7 to 10 days.

Common symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

The common cold and the flu share many symptoms, but there is one key difference: severity. If your symptoms seem particularly severe, you may have the flu or another respiratory illness.

If your symptoms start off bad, get better and then suddenly get worse again, contact your health care provider. This is typically a sign of a secondary infection.

Colds are highly contagious, meaning they spread very easily from person to person, which is why we all get them from time to time. The length of time a person is contagious varies.

Is There a Cure for the Common Cold?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold. Colds are caused by more than 200 different viruses, and developing a vaccine or medication to treat or prevent all of them just isn't possible at this time. However, you can alleviate symptoms with over-the-counter medications or natural remedies.

Often times, the best thing to do is to let a cold run its course. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids - this means more fluids than usual. If your symptoms do not improve after 7 to 10 days, see your health care provider. You may have a different illness, or you could have developed a secondary infection.

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