Home » Resources Library » Common Cold

Common Cold

By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

Last Updated:

Common Cold

What Is Common Cold

The common cold is actually a contagious illness which can be determined by a series of viruses. The medical term used to describe it is viral upper respiratory tract infection. Other names include rhinopharyngitis, acute coryza, or ansopharyngitis. The reason for this is that the illness primarily affects the nose.

This disease is contagious because it can be transmitted through airborne droplets, also known as aerosols, which come in a direct contact with the nasal secretions. The problem is that these viruses can survive for prolonged periods of time, which can expand for up to eighteen hours, and can be easily carried by hand. Because of this, any type of hand-to-hand or hand-to-surface contact comes with an increase chance of developing this illness.

Furthermore, there is a traditional folk theory which states that a cold is often “coughed” due to enhanced exposure to a colder weather such as rainy weather or during the winter. However, the only link to this assumption is the body’s cooling which comes as a risk factor towards its development, because it makes the organism more susceptible towards infections. Besides this, the illness doesn’t have anything to do with the cold weather and people can suffer from it both in summer as well as spring, autumn, or winter.


The virus which is most commonly implicated in its development is rhinovirus which targets 30 to 80 percent of the cases. However, there are others such as influenza viruses, coronavirus, adenovirus, human respiratory syncytial virus, and enteroviruses that may lead to its occurrence. In most of the cases, there is more than one present within the organism. As we’ve previously mentioned, the problem with these viruses is that they can survive for large periods of time and can be easily transmitted through hands, coughs, and sometimes even by breathing the same air as an infected person.

Generally, the virus gets inside the body because of poor hygiene and because most of the individuals that have had hand-to-hand contact with an infected person mistakenly touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, fact that facilitates the appearance of the common cold. Other factors linked to its occurrence are a bad immunity, bad dieting, or lack of exercising.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms linked to the common cold usually occur somewhere between one and three days after the individual has been exposed to the virus that caused it. Among the frequent symptoms there are cough, congestion, stuffy and runny nose, sneezing, mild fatigue, watery eyes, low-grade fever, and some slight body aches as well as mild headaches. Additionally, the discharge that comes from the nose can become yellow or green and thicker as the illness evolves. The main difference between a common cold and other infections caused by viruses is the lack of a high fever. On the other hand, significant fatigue is experienced.

It is of high importance that patients who have fever higher than 103° F, which is the equivalent of 39.4° Celsius, which is often accompanied by chills, coughs, intense sweating, swollen glands, sinus pain, and headaches, either contact a personal doctor or try some natural remedies because there are increased chances that the common cold is involved. Compared to adults, children generally develop a series of complications, such as ear infections. This is why they should visit a doctor when the first signs of illness occur, in order to avoid potential worsening of the condition.

Diagnosing Common Cold

The most important distinction between a common cold and other viral upper respiratory tract infections consists of the location of its symptoms which primarily affect the nose, compared to bronchitis which affects the lungs and pharyngitis which directly affects the throat.

Because there is no specific test to attest the appearance of the common cold, the diagnosis is based mainly on the patient’s symptoms. For instance, if symptoms such as runny nose, headaches, coughs, sore throat, or congestion are present, there are increased chances for the presence of this illness. However, before the doctor is certain that this is the problem the person is dealing with, other illnesses which come with similar symptoms have to be ruled out, among which there are sinus infections, strep throat, influenza, ear infections, and bronchitis. When these are eliminated as a possibility, the person most likely suffers from the common cold, which is manageable if it is properly treated. If the condition is severe, the individual should follow the treatment accordingly because there were even some cases of deaths due to the common cold so it can be dangerous, particularly for those suffering from HIV or other conditions linked to a poor immune system protection.

When a patient visits a doctor for confirmation of the illness, there are often a series of minor tests performed which include a check up on the patient’s throat, temperature, and other potential symptoms. After the diagnosis is put, the person should stay indoors and have a break from the daily lifestyle in order to avoid further contamination and the inability to properly recover.

Treatment for Common Cold

Even though there is no particular treatment for the virus that determines its development, the symptoms can be easily treated through some medications. For instances, for pains and aches which are accompanied by a 100 degrees fever, the individual is advised to take Tylenol and avoid aspirin because of increases risks of Reye syndrome’s appearance, specifically when children are involved. On the other hand, if a sore throat is the main symptom, the person can gargle with some salt water.

In most of the cases, it is advised not to consume over-the-counter cold medication because they are likely to feature drugs for certain symptoms that may not appear and generally results in an overtreatment. The FDA stated that these over-the-counter drugs should be particularly avoided in children under the age of four.

On the other hand, the reason why people purchase these medications relies on their composition. For instance, some contain psudoephedrine which may help clear and dry the nasal passages, but only in a temporarily manner. Unfortunately, these may have complications, especially when it comes to people that suffer from heart problems, diabetes, prostate issues, or hyperthyroidism. For those who prefer to avoid any type of medication, either prescribed or over-the-counter, they have the possibility of taking natural remedies which feature ingredients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and B Vitamin Complex. These focus on relieving symptoms while enhancing the health of the immune system.