Also known as an upper respiratory infection, the common cold is an
infection of the head and chest, caused by a virus that can affect the
throat, sinuses, ears, windpipe, nose and airways of the lungs (bronchi).
More than 200 different viruses can cause colds, and the infection is
spread through sneezing, coughing and personal contact. Colds are easily
spread during the first three or four days of the illness and are more
prevalent in the winter. You may be at higher risk to contract a cold if
you are fatigued, smoke, don't eat enough nutritious food, live or work in
crowded conditions, or are emotionally or physically stressed.
Generally lasting between one and two weeks, symptoms of a common cold are
runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, low fever, watery eyes, loss of
appetite, fatigue, congestion, trouble with breathing, mild headache and
Currently, there is no medicine, including antibiotics, that cures the
common cold. However, symptoms can be treated with nonprescription
medicines such as cough syrups and drops, throat lozenges, aspirin,
acetaminophen and nose drops or sprays. Home treatment is also useful and
includes reducing your level of activity, getting bed rest, drinking extra
fluids and using a humidifier to increase air moisture.
Zinc lozenges (available over the counter at most drugstores) have been
shown in some studies to shorten duration of a cold if taken within 24
hours of the first symptoms, but these results are still controversial.
Vitamin C taken on a regular basis, not just when a cold is present, may
also shorten the duration of cold symptoms, although it probably does not
help prevent the illness.
WebMD terms and conditions.
- Avoid sharing food or eating utensils with others.
- Eat a balanced diet, including whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Wash hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Also wash hands
before handling food, dishes, glasses, napkins or silverware.
- Avoid letting your mouth or nose touch drinking fountains or public telephones.