Health Encyclopedia

 

Document Search by P00620



Common ColdResfriado Común

Common Cold

What is the common cold?

The common cold is one of the most common illnesses, leading to more doctor visits and absences from school and work than any other illness annually. It is estimated that every year people in the U.S. will suffer a billion colds. Caused by a virus that inflames the membranes in the lining of the nose and throat, colds can be the result of more than 200 different viruses. However, among all of the cold viruses, the rhinoviruses and the coronaviruses cause the majority of colds.

When is the "cold" season?

People are most likely to have colds during fall and winter, starting in late August or early September until March or April. The increased incidence of colds during the cold season may be attributed to the fact that more people are indoors and close to each other. In addition, many cold viruses thrive in low humidity, making the nasal passages drier and more vulnerable to infection.

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

The following are the most common symptoms of the common cold. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Stuffy, runny nose

  • Scratchy, tickly throat

  • Sneezing

  • Watering eyes

  • Low-grade fever

  • Sore throat

  • Mild hacking cough

  • Achy muscles and bones

  • Headache

  • Mild fatigue

  • Chills

  • Watery discharge from nose that thickens and turns yellow or green

Colds usually start two to three days after the virus enters the body and symptoms last from several days to several weeks.

The symptoms of the common cold may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is the common cold spread?

The common cold is highly contagious. It is often spread through airborne droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air by the contagious person and then inhaled by another person. Colds can also be spread by hand-to-hand or hand-to-infected-surface contact, after which a person touches his or her face.

How is a cold different from the flu?

A cold and the flu (influenza) are two different illnesses. A cold is relatively harmless and usually clears up by itself after a period of time, although sometimes it may lead to a secondary infection, such as an ear infection. However, the flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia and even death. What may seem like a cold, could, in fact, be the flu. Be aware of these differences:

Cold symptoms

Flu symptoms

Low or no fever

High fever

Sometimes a headache

A headache very common

Stuffy, runny nose

Clear nose

Sneezing

Sometimes sneezing

Mild, hacking cough

Cough, often becoming severe

Slight aches and pains

Often severe aches and pains

Mild fatigue

Several weeks of fatigue

Sore throat

Sometimes a sore throat

Normal energy level or may feel sluggish

Extreme exhaustion

Who is at greater risk for catching the common cold?

Children suffer more colds each year than adults, due to their immature immune systems and to the close physical contact with other children at school or day care. In fact, the average child will have between six to 10 colds a year, while the average adult will get two to four colds a year. However, the average number of colds for children and adults will vary.

How can the common cold be prevented?

The best way to avoid catching the common cold is to wash your hands frequently and avoid close contact with people who have colds. When around people with colds, do not touch your nose or eyes, because your hands may be contaminated with the virus.

People with colds should cough and sneeze in facial tissue and dispose of the tissue promptly, and then wash his or her hands immediately. In addition, cleaning surfaces with disinfectants that kill viruses can halt the spread of the common cold. Research has shown that rhinoviruses may survive up to three hours outside of the nasal mucosa.

How is the common cold diagnosed?

Most common colds are diagnosed based on reported symptoms. However, cold symptoms may be similar to certain bacterial infections, allergies, and other medical conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What is the treatment for the common cold?

Currently, there is no medication available to cure or shorten the duration of the common cold. However, the following are some treatments that may help to relieve some symptoms of the cold:

  • Over-the-counter cold medications, such as decongestants and cough medicine

  • Over-the-counter antihistamines (medication that helps dry up nasal secretions and suppress coughing)

  • Rest

  • Increased fluid intake

  • Pain relievers for headache or fever

  • Warm, salt water gargling for sore throat

  • Petroleum jelly for raw, chapped skin around the nose and lips

  • Warm steam for congestion

Note: Because colds are caused by viruses, treatment with antibiotics is ineffective. Antibiotics are only effective when given to treat bacterial infections.

Do not give aspirin to a child who has fever without first contacting the child's doctor. Aspirin, when given as treatment for viral illnesses in children, has been associated with Reye syndrome, a potentially serious or deadly disorder in children. Therefore, pediatricians and other health care providers recommend that aspirin (or any medication that contains aspirin) not be used to treat any viral illnesses (such as colds, the flu, and chickenpox) in children.

What complications can come from colds?

Colds can lead to secondary infections, including bacterial middle ear and sinus infections that may require treatment with antibiotics. When a cold is accompanied by high fever, sinus pain, significantly swollen glands, or a mucus-producing cough, a complication may be present that requires additional treatment.

Can cold weather cause colds?

Contrary to popular belief, cold weather or getting chilled does not cause a cold, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. However, more colds do occur during the cold season (early fall to late winter), which is probably due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Schools are in session, increasing the risk for exposure to the virus

  • People stay more indoors and are in closer proximity to each other

  • Low humidity, causing dry nasal passages which are more susceptible to cold viruses

 
Related Items
Wellness Library
  Antibiotics Not the Cure for the Common Cold
  Chicken Soup: Good for the Body and the Soul
  A Winter Cold: Not Inevitable
  Help for a Child with a Cold
  Is It an Allergy or a Cold?
  Paging Dr. Mom
  5 Ways to Avoid Colds and the Flu
  Stop the Spread of Germs at Work
  Older Adults and the Common Cold
Nutritional Supplement Advisor
  Echinacea
  Elderberry
  Vitamin C
  Zinc
Drug Reference
  Ibuprofen; Pseudoephedrine
  Phenylephrine; Promethazine
  Dexchlorpheniramine
  Zinc Salts
  Dextromethorphan; Phenylephrine; Pyrilamine
  Pleconaril
  Chlorpheniramine; Dextromethorphan; Pseudoephedrine
  Echinacea
  Chlorpheniramine; Hydrocodone; Pseudoephedrine
  Naproxen; Pseudoephedrine
  Brompheniramine; Dextromethorphan; Guaifenesin
  Brompheniramine; Guaifenesin; Hydrocodone
  Chlorpheniramine; Guaifenesin; Hydrocodone; Pseudoephedrine
  Chlorpheniramine; Dextromethorphan
  Brompheniramine; Hydrocodone; Pseudoephedrine
  Carbetapentane; Chlorpheniramine
  Carbetapentane; Phenylephrine; Pyrilamine
  Carbinoxamine; Hydrocodone; Pseudoephedrine
  Chlorpheniramine; Dextromethorphan; Phenylephrine
  Desloratadine; Pseudoephedrine
  Carbetapentane; Guaifenesin
  Chlorpheniramine; Dihydrocodeine; Pseudoephedrine
  Dihydrocodeine; Guaifenesin; Pseudoephedrine
  Carbetapentane; Guaifenesin; Phenylephrine
  Chlorpheniramine; Dihydrocodeine; Phenylephrine
  Diphenhydramine; Hydrocodone; Phenylephrine
  Acetaminophen; Chlorpheniramine; Dextromethorphan; Phenylephrine
  Carbinoxamine; Hydrocodone; Phenylephrine
  Diphenhydramine; Phenylephrine
  Brompheniramine; Carbetapentane; Phenylephrine
  Carbetapentane; Chlorpheniramine; Phenylephrine
  Dexchlorpheniramine; Dextromethorphan; Pseudoephedrine
  Acetaminophen; Dextromethorphan
  Acetaminophen; Dextromethorphan; Doxylamine
  Acetaminophen; Dextromethorphan; Phenylephrine
  Carbetapentane; Diphenhydramine; Phenylephrine
  Carbetapentane; Pseudoephedrine
  Acetaminophen; Guaifenesin; Phenylephrine
  Dextromethorphan; Diphenhydramine; Phenylephrine
  Carbetapentane; Phenylephrine
  Acetaminophen; Dextromethorphan; Guaifenesin; Phenylephrine
  Carbetapentane; Pyrilamine
  Acetaminophen; Aspirin, ASA; Caffeine
  Acetaminophen; Chlorpheniramine; Dextromethorphan; Pseudoephedrine
  Acetaminophen; Dextromethorphan; Pseudoephedrine
  Acetaminophen; Pseudoephedrine
  Carbinoxamine; Dextromethorphan; Pseudoephedrine
  Carbinoxamine; Pseudoephedrine
  Chlorpheniramine; Hydrocodone
  Chlorpheniramine; Hydrocodone; Phenylephrine
  Chlorpheniramine; Phenylephrine
  Chlorpheniramine; Pseudoephedrine
Quizzes
  Common Cold Quiz
Disease Management
  Heart Disease: Considering Cold Relief
Daily News Feed
  Health Tip: Keep Germs to Yourself
  Lethal New Virus in Monkeys Shows Potential to Infect Humans
  Health Tip: Dealing With a Child's Cough
  Want to Stay Healthy? Try Washing Your Hands
  Meet Henry the Hand: A Crusading Doctor's Right-Hand Man
  Poorer Childhoods, More Colds as Adults?
  Fewer ER Visits for Kids After Cold Medicine Restrictions
  New Push by Doctors to Limit Antibiotic Use in Kids
  Health Tip: Don't Take Too Much Acetaminophen
  Health Tip: Avoid Spreading the Common Cold
  Ease Up on Workouts to Aid Flu Recovery, Expert Says
  When a Common Cold Becomes More Dangerous for Kids
  Health Tip: Using a Nasal Spray
  Hand Washing, Zinc May Ward Off Colds: Review
  Expectant Mothers' Colds May Affect Baby
  Infections Like Colds, Chickenpox Tied to Some Stroke Risk in Kids
  Common Cold Meds May Pose Health Threats
  Too Much Codeine Still Prescribed to U.S. Kids: Study
Pediatric Diseases and Conditions
  Upper Respiratory Disorders
  Upper Respiratory Infection (URI or Common Cold)