Common Cold: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, & Treatment

The common cold is a viral infection that affects your throat and nose. The common cold can occur at any time of the year, but it is most common during the winter, fall, and spring. Most people can recover from a common cold on their own within two weeks. However, some people may require medical attention if their symptoms don’t improve with time.

Common Cold Flu

Common Cold Facts

  • The common cold can spread by airborne respiratory droplets, touching a contaminated surface, or skin-to-skin contact.
  • Cold weather does not cause the common cold, but it can promote the spread of viral infection.
  • The common cold does not require antibiotics and can be managed at home.
  • It has no cure, but over-the-counter medications can help improve your symptoms.

What Causes Common Cold

Even though different types of viruses, including human coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, human parainfluenza virus, human metapneumovirus, and adenovirus can all cause the common cold, rhinoviruses are the most common cause among them.

Symptoms and Signs of the Common Cold in Adults, Children, and Infants

A person with a common cold may experience symptoms in two to three days after being exposed to a cold-causing virus. The symptoms may vary from one person to another, depending on the type of virus that has caused the cold, and generally include:

  • Fatigue
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Hoarseness
  • Congestion

The common cold may begin with a runny nose with clear nasal discharge, which may become yellow or green as the cold progresses. Infants and children with the common cold experience the same signs and symptoms as adults do.

How Long Is the Common Cold Contagious?

Generally, the common cold is contagious for one to two days before your symptoms begin, and until all your symptoms disappear. However, the common cold is most likely to spread during the first two to three days of illness.  

What are the Risk Factors for Acquiring the Common Cold?

These factors can increase your risk for the common cold:

  • Age – Due to lack of immunity, infants and children are more likely to get the common cold.
  • Smoking – It can increase your chance of getting a common cold.
  • Climate – People are vulnerable to colds during winter, fall, and spring. During these times, they tend to stay indoors and in closer proximity to one another.
  • Weakened Immune System – People with a chronic illness or weakened immune system are at greater risk for the common cold.

What Is the Incubation Period of the Common Cold?

The incubation period of the common cold is two to three days. After that, you may experience symptoms such as sneezing, sore throat, cough, and nasal obstruction.

What Are the Stages of the Common Cold?

The stages of the common cold include onset, progression, peak, and recovery. Generally, people will develop symptoms after 2 to 3 days of virus exposure. The progression and signs of the common cold vary from one person to another, depending on the type of virus they are infected with. Some people may develop severe symptoms, whereas others may develop mild symptoms. People may require 7-10 days or more to recover from a common cold depending on the virus type and their health condition.  

When Should You Consult a Doctor for the Common Cold?

You should visit your doctor if you have:

  • Severe sore throat, sinus pain, or headache
  • Fever over 101.3 F°
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever that lasts for 5 days or more

Seek immediate medical attention if your child has:

  • Fever of 100.4 F° for infants up to 12 weeks of age
  • Wheezing
  • Extreme fussiness
  • Rising fever or fever that lasts for more than 2 days
  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Ear pain
  • Severe or fail-to-improve symptoms

Tips to Prevent the Common Cold

These tips can help you reduce your risk for infection:

  • Keep your hands clean.
  • Do not touch your mouth, eyes, and nose with unwashed hands.
  • Stay away from infected people.
  • Stay at home when you are sick.
  • Keep frequently touched surfaces and objects clean and disinfected.

Taking proper care and over the counter medication can tackle the symptoms of common cold, and if your symptom persists, you should consider visiting a doctor.


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8-2-8 Urgent Care, based in Oceanside, California is a state-of-the-art urgent care and walk-in clinic that provides immediate medical care to all your regular healthcare needs. We are an emergency urgent care facility capable of treating everything from minor illness, like a fever or flu, to the more severe illnesses and injuries such as fractures and lacerations, to work related injuries and pediatric urgent care needs. We have an all equipment ready lab that's able to provide immediate test results and we are open every day, including the holidays.

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