Cold, common

12 Min Read

What is it

Just about everyone gets colds a general term referring to a group of minor but highly contagious upper respiratory viral infections that cause inflammation of the mucous linings of the nose and throat. Symptoms generally develop one to two days after exposure to the virus, and anyone with a common cold is contagious for about two to three days, starting the day before symptoms appear. There is no cure, but there are measures that alleviate symptoms during recovery, which generally takes about a week.

At least 200 different cold viruses exist, the most common being the rhinoviruses (nose viruses), which are estimated to cause 30 percent of all colds. No one knows what makes a person prone to colds in general or to any particular cold. Although newborns are thought to be immune to 20 percent of rhinoviruses (they get the antibodies from their mothers), they quickly lose their immunity. Small children are the most susceptible to colds, and can have six or eight a year. People who spend a lot of time with children, such as teachers, also tend to have numerous colds.

There is also evidence that smokers are more likely to catch colds and to have longer lasting symptoms than nonsmokers. Tobacco smoke paralyzes the hair-like projections that line the nose and throat. Thus, these cilia are less efficient at moving mucus out. In one sense every cold is your last from that particular virus for a period of time. One compensation for growing older is that you develop immunity to a progressively larger number of viruses and thus catch fewer colds. By age 60, most people have one cold per year, if any.


  • Runny nose.
  • Sneezing.
  • Sore or scratchy throat, with hoarseness.
  • Coughing.
  • Inflamed membranes in the nose and throat, which may cause discomfort day and night.
  • Fatigue and general malaise.
  • Occasional low-grade fever (more often found in children than adults).
  • Muscle aches and pains.

What causes it

Researchers know more than they used to about how colds are transmitted and about the viruses that cause them. Rhinoviruses tend to infect people in late summer and early autumn. Other types of viruses, not so well understood, are more likely to cause winter and early spring colds.

A sure way to “catch” a cold virus to which you are not already immune is to get a dose of it directly in the upper nose, where the temperature and humidity are ideal for its growth. In laboratory experiments, putting rhinovirus in the noses of volunteers almost always gives them a cold, no matter what their state of physical or emotional resistance or whether they are cold and wet or warm and dry.

Three possibilities exist for the way cold viruses get into your nasal passages: they may travel through the air (from the sneezing or coughing of others); they may be transmitted through direct contact (shaking hands with a cold sufferer, for example, and then touching your eyes or nose); or they may spread via a telephone, toy, or cup used by a cold sufferer. One study has found that airborne transmission is common in adults, whereas children tend to transmit secretions directly.

But, in fact, unless the virus gains access to the upper nose, the body has many lines of defense against it. Simply putting a cold virus near the nose usually has no effect, because it cannot penetrate the skin. The mucous membranes of the mouth are usually an effective barrier, so that kissing is not an efficient way to spread a cold. Simply being in the same room with a cold sufferer won’t do it. Workers in the same office usually don’t share colds. They may have colds at the same time, but they are usually due to different viruses.

Family members, though, do tend to share their colds. The three factors that primarily influence transmission are the amount of time spent around the cold sufferer, the volume of his secretions, and the amount of virus in them.

What if you do nothing

People seldom develop serious complications from colds. The discomfort can be debilitating, but a cold is by definition temporary’ and self- limiting. Most colds last a week or less, but two week colds are not unheard of.

Home remedies

Colds cannot be cured by antibiotics, including penicillin, or any other drug. Nor is it wise to take antibiotics in an attempt to prevent later bacterial infection. Take antibiotics only when your doctor prescribes them and certainly don’t take them on your own for a cold or flu.

Your symptoms, however uncomfortable, are a sign that your body’s defenses are working against the virus. Keep the following pointers in mind for your general well-being.

Don’t automatically “take something” for a cold

Over-the-counter cold remedies won’t necessarily make you feel better. If you do use them, do so sparingly. Also, don’t insist on giving medicine or vitamins to a child. Many cold medications made for adults contain ingredients that are harmful when taken by children.

Gargle to ease a sore throat

A salt or sugar water gargle (one-quarter teaspoon of salt or one tablespoon of Karo syrup added to eight ounces of water) can be helpful in relieving sore throat symptoms.

Saline nose drops may clear nasal passages

Like the gargle, these can also be made with one quarter teaspoon of salt to eight ounces of water.

Choose your fluids

“Drink plenty of fluids” is time-honored advice, but there is no evidence that increasing fluid intake will do anything but increase the need to urinate. Drink as many fluids as you want they ease a dry throat but you don’t need to force yourself or anyone else to consume liquids.

Hot drinks, on the other hand, are definitely comforting. In one study chicken soup (as compared with cold water and hot water) was show into increase the flow of nasal secretions. The taste and aroma was thought to be part of the therapy, as well as inhalation of the vapor. Some other hot soup might do as well, if you prefer it. Tea with honey isn’t bad, either.

Skip the hot toddies

Hot alcoholic beverages or a shot of brandy may sound tempting, but alcohol dilates blood vessels and may produce more nasal congestion. Overindulgence, obviously, may bring on stomach upset and headache. Pregnant women are advised never to drink.

Rest if you feel like it

Bed rest will not cure a cold or even alleviate symptoms, but if you feel exhausted or your symptoms are distractingly painful, rest at home either in bed or just around the house. Increased humidity in the air you breathe can sometimes make you feel better, at least temporarily. Hot-water vaporizers offer some advantages, but can cause bums and scalding. Use a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier if you wish. There is no value in adding medications to the water. Remember that humidifiers can harbor molds, which may cause allergic reactions. Clean the tank daily, rinsing with a mild solution of chlorine bleach and refilling with fresh water.

Ease up on exercise

There’s no harm in exercising if you feel up to it, but you should never force yourself if you feel too tired or unfit, or if you have a fever. A break of two or three days in your exercise program won’t be a significant setback.

Soothe your red, sore nose and lips

The irritation, which is caused by mucous secretions and aggravated by nose blowing, can often be relieved with petroleum jelly or skin lotion.

Consider keeping kids at home for a day

If a child has a cold going to school will do him no harm. For the security of other children, a child in the first stages who has a acute runny nose must possibly remain at home. The most infectious period generally begins about a day before symptoms appear and lasts only another day or two.


Wash your hands often

The most effective way to keep a cold from spreading is hand washing. If you have a cold, remember that it spreads via your fingers, so wash them often in soap and warm water. If you are nearby people with colds, rinse your hands frequently and try to avoid placing your fingers towards your eyes and nose.

Try not to share objects with cold sufferers

It means not touching their pencils, telephones, drinking glasses, typewriters, towels and other tools. Paper towels and paper cups are worthwhile investments during cold season. See that used tissues are disposed of promptly and properly. They should be discarded in a plastic lined receptacle or paper bag, or in any manner that makes re-handling them unnecessary.

Vitamin C is no guarantee

Though mega-doses of vitamin C have been highly touted as a means of preventing a cold, no clinical trial has ever shown vitamin C to be more than marginally useful There’s really no reason to think that it will prevent or cure a cold or noticeably relieve symptoms: at most it may shorten the duration of a cold by an insignificant amount. Mega-doses of vitamin C—defined as more than 10 times the recommended dietary allowance (RDA; of 6C milligrams may cause side effects, including nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Chewable vitamin C tablets can erode tooth enamel.

Share this Article