HomeHealth A-ZCommon Cold - Causes and Symptoms

Common Cold – Causes and Symptoms

The common cold is a viral infection that affects the nose and throat and is usually self-limiting. Most viruses exhibit symptoms of cold initially such as a running nose and scratchy throat, and one such example is COVID-19. A healthy adult experiences cold at least two or three times each year, while infants and young children have more frequent colds. A typical cold usually lasts a week or up to ten days for most people, and a common cold does not necessitate medical attention most of the time.   

What are the symptoms of the common cold? 

The symptoms of a typical cold may arise 1-3 days after being exposed to a cold-causing virus. The following are some of the signs and symptoms that can vary from person to person:  

When the individual has a runny nose, the discharge from the nose starts as clear and becomes thicker in yellow or green colour as days pass by.  

What are the causes? 

Many kinds of viruses can cause a common cold, including human rhinovirus, coronavirus, parainfluenza virus, and adenovirus. The most common cause of the cold is the rhinovirus that can enter the body through the mouth, eyes, or nose. When someone is sick and coughs, sneezes or talks, the virus spreads through the droplets in the air. It can also spread through touch or through sharing the same objects like vessels, towels, etc.

Generally, one can catch a cold any time of the year, most commonly during colder months or rainy seasons, as people tend to stay indoors during winter and are in close contact.   

What is the difference between the common cold and the flu?

Even though the symptoms of both conditions are very similar, there are certain differences between both the conditions:

SymptomsCommon ColdFlu
HeadachesCan occur occasionallyCommon
SneezingUsualCan occur occasionally
FeverMildHigh temperature
FatigueMildUsual occurrence
Body PainMildUsual
Sore ThroatUsualCan occur occasionally
CoughMild to moderateCommon, can become severe
Difference Between Common Cold and Flu

Risk factors of Common Cold

The factors that increase the chances of getting a cold are:  

  • Age: Babies and young children are more prone to the common cold as their immunity is low compared to adults.   
  • Weakened immune system: Chronic illness and a weak immune system increase the risk of catching a cold.  
  • Time of the year: Adults and children are likely to get a cold during the winter or rainy season.  
  • Smoking: Smokers are more likely to catch  colds.  

Complications  

Few complications associated with a common cold include the following: 

  • Acute ear infection (otitis media): It occurs when bacteria or viruses enter the space behind the eardrum. 
  • Asthma: Even if the individual does not have asthma, a common cold can trigger wheezing that may lead to asthma.   
  • Acute sinusitis: If the common cold is not resolved, it may cause swelling and pain, resulting in infection of the sinuses.  

Other infections that can occur as secondary infections after the common cold include pneumonia, bronchiolitis in children, and strep throat. 

What are the home remedies for a common cold? 

Taking adequate rest and drinking plenty of fluids, along with a high fibre diet, can relieve symptoms from the common cold. Other home care remedies include:

  1. Hot soup for soothing the symptoms and congestion. 
  2. Gargling with salt water for sore throat 
  3. Cough medication or lozenges  to help with cough and sore throat 

How can the common cold be prevented?  

The preventive measures that can be taken to avoid the spread of any cold virus are as follows: 

  1. Wash hands regularly – Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds at least,  is imperious to prevent the spread of the virus. If soap is not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used. Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes without washing your hands.  
  2. Disinfect all objects – Doorknobs, children’s toys, light switches, kitchen, and bathroom countertops require regular sanitization. 
  3. Cover while coughing – Make sure to use a tissue while coughing or sneezing and dispose of them immediately. Remember to wash hands thoroughly after this and if there is no tissue, sneeze or cough into the elbow bend and wash hands.  
  4. Do not share personal items – Try not to share drinking glasses or utensils with family members while having a cold. Use a disposable glass and dispose of after using it.   
  5. Take care – Boost your immune system by eating a well-balanced diet with regular exercise and good sleep.  

Common cold usually causes mild discomfort and the symptoms of cold can be managed with medications. If the individual does not see any improvements even after 10 days, it is recommended to visit the doctor immediately.

FAQ

How long does a common cold last?

A typical bout of common cold can take between 7 to 10 days for full recovery

What should I eat to get rid of a cold?

The best foods to combat the effects of a cold is soups, coconut water, garlic, honey, ginger and spicy food.

What is the difference between common cold and COVID?

SymptomsCommon ColdCOVID
DiarheaNeverCan occur occasionally
SneezingUsualRare
FeverMildUsual
FatigueMildCan occur occasionally
Body PainMildCan occur occasionally
Sore ThroatUsualUsual
CoughMild to moderateCommon (Dry)
Difference Between Common Cold and Covid
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Verified By Dr Koka Ram Babu
M.B.B.S, M.S. (ENT), Senior consultant, department of ENT & Apollo cochlear implant clinic, Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad    
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