The common cold is an infection that can irritate your nose and throat.
The common cold is caused by a virus. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold.
Factors that may increase your chance of a cold include:
- Being near someone who has a cold
- Touching your nose, mouth, or eyes with contaminated fingers
- Decreased resistance, which can be caused by smoking , second-hand smoke, or stress
- Shorter sleep duration or poor sleep quality
A cold may cause:
- Sore or scratchy throat
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Itchy, stuffed sensation in the ears
- Watery eyes
- Aches and pains
- Low energy
The diagnosis is most often based on your symptoms. Generally, tests are not needed to make a diagnosis unless another condition is suspected, such as pneumonia .
A cold usually lasts 10 days or longer. There are no cures for a cold, but treatments can relieve your symptoms. These include:
To make you more comfortable:
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Warm beverages like tea and chicken soup are soothing. They may also help decrease congestion.
- Use a humidifier. A cool-mist humidifier will keep your nasal passages moist. Humidifiers may also loosen congestion. Be sure to clean the humidifier every day.
- Try nasal flushing with a neti-pot or saline spray. This can help loosen mucus. You can buy these items at most pharmacies
- Gargle with warm salt water. It can help soothe a sore throat.
To relieve aches, pains, and fever consider non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Prescription antiviral medication is usually not necessary.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye syndrome. Ask your doctor which other medications are safe for your child.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Cough and cold medications include:
- Throat lozenges
- Vapor rub
Note: Cough and cold medications should not be used in children under 2 years old, and they are not recommended in children under 4 years old. The US Food and Drug Administration has not completed its review regarding the safety of over-the-counter cough and cold medications in children ages 2-11 years. Rare, but serious side effects have been reported.
Decongestant pills or nasal sprays can shrink nasal passages. They also decrease mucus production. Nasal sprays should only be used for 2-3 days. Longer use can lead to increased congestion when you stop using the product.
Many people use alternative treatments to relieve their cold symptoms. Some of the more popular choices include:
- Vitamin C —Taking extra vitamin C at the start of a cold has not been shown to be of any benefit. Some believe that taking vitamin C throughout the cold season may help reduce symptoms or shorten how long the cold lasts.
- Zinc lozenges—Taking zinc lozenges at the start of a cold may help shorten the length of the cold.
- Echinacea —Echinacea might help people to recover faster from a cold. But, there is little evidence that it can prevent colds if taken in advance.
- Honey —While honey has not been shown to affect the severity or length of a common cold, it may improve nighttime cough and sleep disruption in children. Do not give honey to infants younger than 12 months because of the risk of infant botulism.
Note: Some supplements and herbal treatments may not be pure. Many can also interact with prescription medications and over-the-counter products. Talk to your doctor before using any of these products.
The most important way to keep from getting or spreading a cold is by washing your hands. Wash your hands well and often. Other ways to keep from getting a cold:
- Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth, and eyes.
- Stay away from people who have a cold.
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit or cut down on smoking.
- Ask your doctor if taking certain supplements may be right for you.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014 -
- Update Date: 09/15/2014 -