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Common Cold - Understanding Symptoms, Causes & Prevention

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Common Cold - Understanding Symptoms, Causes & Prevention

Internal Medicine | Posted on 02/08/2024 by Dr. Rahul Mathur


If you are experiencing signs like sneezing, runny, or stuffy nose, then you might be suffering from a common cold. It is an illness that affects the nose and throat in humans. Usually, a common cold is harmless, however, you might not feel the same way. The problem is caused by germs known as viruses. As per one study, it is discovered on average, adults experience the common cold twice or thrice a year. On the other hand, young children and infants experience the common cold more often than adults.

A common cold usually goes away within seven to ten days, whereas smokers, might experience the symptoms persistently. For most people, a common cold doesn’t need medical attention. You should book your appointment with best internal medicine doctor in Jaipur at CK Birla Hospital if your symptoms worsen or are not improving. 

In this blog, you will find a discussion on the common cold including its symptoms, causes, treatment options, and prevention methods. Please note that this write-up is for informative purposes only and we do not construe with doctor’s consultation in any way. If you find any difficulty, you can consider consulting an internal medicine doctor on a priority basis.

What is a Common Cold?

A common cold is an illness also referred to as viral upper respiratory tract infection medically and is a contagious disease mainly caused by rhinoviruses. It shows up as a sore throat, coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, and usually a low fever. It causes discomfort and interrupts regular activities, however, most of the time, it is harmless. Airborne droplets or direct contact with contaminated surfaces are the main ways in which the infection is spread. The best treatment for a common cold is rest, fluids, over-the-counter medications for symptom relief, and antiviral drugs often if the infection is serious. A key strategy in restricting its spread involves prevention through good hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with infected people, and improving immune system strength.

What are the symptoms of a Common Cold?

The Common cold symptoms differ for both adults and children slightly. Here are some of the symptoms:

For Adults

  • Nasal congestion: Blocked nose and runny nose are the first and most common signs adults often experience causing breathing problems through the nose.
  • Sore throat: This is usually accompanied by a feeling of discomfort and pain primarily while swallowing. 
  • Coughing: Adults experience cough persistently that is through producing phlegm or dry
  • Headache: Mild to moderate headaches are prevalent in adults because of sinus pressure or congestion.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or rundown leads to hampering daily activities and productivity for an adult due to a common cold.

For Children

  • Nasal congestion: Children may have difficulty breathing through their noses, leading to fussiness or difficulty feeding.
  • Runny nose: Young children may have excessive nasal discharge, often requiring frequent wiping.
  • Fever: Children may develop a low-grade fever, which can contribute to irritability or decreased appetite.
  • Coughing: Children may have a cough, which can be particularly bothersome, especially at night.
  • Decreased appetite: Some children may eat less than usual due to throat discomfort or a decreased sense of taste.

What are the causes of a Common Cold?

Different causes have been identified for the common cold such as:

  • Viral infection: Rhinoviruses are known to be the most common causes, however, viruses like coronavirus and adenovirus can also cause the common cold.
  • Transmission: The virus is transmitted to another person through airborne droplets if any contagious person coughs or sneezes, through coming in contact with the infected surfaces. 
  • Weakened immune system: Different factors like stress, fatigue, or underlying health conditions lead to undermining the body’s efficiency in fighting against the virus.
  • Seasonal variation: Cold weather and indoor crowding during the winter season lead to ideal conditions for virus spread. 
  • Lack of immunity: People with less immunity are more vulnerable to experience infection especially when new cold virus strains emerge rapidly. 

How is a Common Cold diagnosed?

Diagnosis of the common cold is initiated by a healthcare professional who involves following certain steps to rule out the probability of any other underlying health condition: 

  • Clinical evaluation: Healthcare experts evaluate symptoms like coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, and sore throat.
  • Medical history: Patients are asked to share everything about their recent exposure to sick people and the duration and seriousness of the symptoms.
  • Physical examination: Healthcare experts also look for signs like nasal discharge, swollen lymph nodes, and throat redness.
  • Differential diagnosis: Influenza or allergies are other conditions that are involved for testing purposes as they also have similar symptoms as the common cold. It is involved to rule out the possibility of these conditions.
  • Laboratory tests: This is rarely required, however, rapid antigen tests or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests help to detect the existence of particular viruses if the diagnosis is unsure or complications occur.

What are the options available for a Common Cold treatment?

Doctors recommend various options for a common cold treatment that are: 

  • Rest: Sufficient sleep allows the body to store energy and focus on eliminating the virus.
  • Hydration: Getting enough liquids assists in relieving sore throats, thin mucus secretions, and avoiding dehydration.
  • Over-the-counter drugs: Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are instances of antipyretics that help to reduce fever and discomfort. Sneezing and nasal congestion may be eased by decongestants and antihistamines.
  • Saline nasal rinses: Spraying saline solution into nasal passages reduces mucus and eases congestion.
  • Honey: Especially for kids older than a year old, honey consumption assists in relieving coughing and sore throats.
  • Breathing in steam: Breathing in steam from a bowl of hot water helps to clear congestion in the nose and facilitate breathing.

What are the prevention tips for a Common Cold?

Tips to avoid the common cold include:

  • Hand hygiene: Especially after sneezing, coughing, or touching surfaces, wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Steer clear of close contact: Reduce the amount of time you spend with sick people and keep a safe distance from them, especially during the cold and flu season
  • Increase immunity through regular exercise, stress management, a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and enough sleep.
  • Clean surfaces: Frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, countertops, and electronics should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze to stop droplets from spreading. You can do this by using a tissue or the crook of your elbow.


In summary, even though the common cold is assumed to be a minor annoyance, it can severely interrupt daily activities and productivity. It becomes easier to control symptoms and manage the spread of infection when the patient is mindful of common cold causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Proper hygiene like washing your hands often and avoiding close contact with sick people is important for prevention. Focus on rest, water, and over-the-counter medications also assist in reducing discomfort. It is easier to navigate the cold season resiliently by putting the discussed tips into practice and remaining informed which helps in improving general well-being and lessening the effects of this pervasive viral infection.



Which virus causes the common cold?

Rhinovirus is the main cause of the common cold but there are other viruses like coronavirus and adenovirus that can spread the infection. 

How to differentiate common cold and coronavirus?

Coronavirus symptoms after 2-14 days after coming in contact with the affected person, whereas in a common cold, an individual starts experiencing the symptoms the same day. 

How long does the common cold last?

Usually, most people suffering from a common cold start recovering within seven to ten days.