Symptoms and Causes of Cold

The common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat (upper respiratory tract infection). They are usually harmless, although it may not seem like that. Many types of viruses can cause common colds.

Healthy adults are expected to catch colds two or three times a year. Infants and young children may catch colds more frequently.

Most people recover from the common cold within a week to 10 days. If you smoke, your symptoms may last longer. In general, you don’t need medical attention when you have a common cold. However, if your symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor.

What are the signs and symptoms of the common cold?

Symptoms

Symptoms of the common cold usually appear one to three days after exposure to a virus due to a cold. Signs and symptoms that may vary from person to person may include:

Stuffy or congested nose

Sore throat

Cough

Congestion

Mild body aches or mild headaches

Sneezing

Mild fever

A general feeling of illness

Your nose may start out of your nose and then become thicker, yellow or green in color with common colds. This doesn’t usually mean you’ve had a bacterial infection.

When to see a Doctor?

For adults:

You generally don’t need medical attention for a cold. However, seek medical attention if you have any of the following:

Symptoms worsen or can’t improve

Fever over 101.3 F (38.5 C) for more than three days

Fever that reappears after a recovery period

Shortness of breath

Wheezing (wheezing)

Severe sore throat, headache, or sinus pain

For children:

Your child generally won’t need to see a doctor because of a cold. Seek medical attention immediately if your child has:

Fever up to 100.4 F (38 C) in newborns for up to 12 weeks

The fever rises or lasts for more than two days, regardless of the age of the child.

Severe symptoms, such as headache, sore throat or cough

Difficulty breathing or wheezing.

Ear pain

Extreme nervousness

Unusual drowsiness

Loss of appetite

Causes

Although many types of viruses can cause symptoms of the common cold, rhinoviruses are the most common cause.

The cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when a patient coughs, sneezes or talks.

It is also spread through direct hand-to-hand contact with someone who has a cold or by sharing contaminated objects, such as eating utensils, towels, toys or phones. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after this contact, you’re more likely to catch a cold.

Risk factors

The following factors can increase the odds of catching a cold:

Lifetime. Infants and young children are at high risk of catching colds, especially if they spend time in childcare facilities.

Weakened immune system. Having a chronic disease or weakened immune system increases your risk.

Time of year. Children and adults are more likely to catch colds in the fall and winter, but you can catch a cold at any time.

Smoking. You’re more likely to catch a cold and those colds are more severe if you’re a smoker or exposed to secondhand smoke.

Contact. If you’re in contact with large crowds, such as at school or on a plane, you’re likely to be exposed to viruses that cause the common cold.

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