Although many types of viruses can cause a common cold, rhinoviruses are the most common culprit.
A cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks.
It also spreads by hand-to-hand contact with someone who has
a cold or by sharing contaminated objects, such as utensils, towels, toys or
telephones. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after such contact or
exposure, you're likely to catch a cold.
These factors can increase your chances of getting a cold:
Common cold symptoms typically begin two to three days after acquiring the infection (incubation period), though this may vary depending on the type of virus causing the infection. Individuals also tend to be most contagious during the initial two to three days of having symptoms. Symptoms and signs of the common cold may also vary depending on the virus responsible for the infection and may include
The signs and symptoms of the common cold in infants and children are similar to those seen in adults. The cold may begin with a runny nose with clear nasal discharge, which later may become yellowish or greenish in color.
Diagnosing a cold rarely requires a trip to your doctor’s office. Recognizing symptoms of a cold is often all you need in order to diagnose yourself. Of course, if symptoms worsen or persist after about a week’s time, you may need to see your doctor. You may actually be showing symptoms of a different problem, such as the flu or strep throat.
If you have a cold, you can expect the virus to work its way out in about a week to 10 days. If you have the flu, this virus may take the same amount of time to fully disappear, but if you notice symptoms are getting worse after day five, or if they’ve not disappeared in a week, you may have developed another condition.
The only way to definitively know if your symptoms are the
result of a cold or the flu is to have your doctor run a series of tests.
Because the symptoms and treatments for a cold and the flu are very similar, a
diagnosis only helps you make sure you’re paying more attention to your
There's no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics are of no use against cold viruses and shouldn't be used unless there's a bacterial infection. Treatment is directed at relieving signs and symptoms.
Pros and cons of commonly used cold remedies include:
Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.
Consider giving your child over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications designed for infants or children. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol, Infant's Feverall, others) or ibuprofen (Pediatric Advil, Motrin Infant, others) to ease symptoms.
If you give cough or cold medicines to an older child,
follow the label directions. Don't give your child two medicines with the same
active ingredient, such as an antihistamine, decongestant or pain reliever. Too
much of a single ingredient could lead to an accidental overdose.
There's no vaccine for the common cold, but you can take common-sense precautions to slow the spread of cold viruses:
Teach children to sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow when they don't have a tissue. That way they cover their mouths without using their hands.