What is the common cold?

A cold is a minor viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose and throat). While colds can occur in any season, they mainly occur during the winter. More than 200 viruses are known to cause the common cold. Cold symptoms often include a runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Colds typically don't cause fever.
The common cold is an upper respiratory infection of the nose and throat brought on by any one of more than 200 viruses that have been identified as causing colds. Most of these, such as rhinoviruses, rarely produce serious illness—at most, a runny nose, congestion, a sore or scratchy throat, and fatigue. People usually recover from a cold in a week to 10 days.

Sometimes, cold symptoms in adults are caused by viruses that can be be more serious, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can cause serious infection in children.

Infectious rhinitis may be caused by several hundred different viruses (rhinoviruses and coronaviruses).  The main symptom is a runny nose.  This is known as the common cold or coryza.  These viruses may also affect the airways, sinuses, throat, voice box, and bronchial tubes. A cold usually begins abruptly with great discomfort in the throat followed by such symptoms as clear, watery  nasal discharge, sneezing, a tired sensation (malaise), and sometimes fever.  Postnasal drip causes the sore throat and cough that accompany colds.  Colds are usually self-limiting and last from three to seven days but occasionally require antibiotics when bacterial infection is superimposed. Infection may be promoted by fatigue, stress, or the virus itself that can weaken the body’s immune system.  Even eustress or good stress can affect the immune system, making you more susceptible to colds.

Oftentimes a cold is mistaken for allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or a sinus infection.  If the disease begins quickly and is over within one to two weeks, then it is usually a cold, not allergy.  If your cold symptoms last longer than two weeks, check with your doctor to see if you have developed an allergy.

Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
Colds are infections caused by many different viruses. When germs become airborne through coughing and sneezing, colds are very contagious. They can also be spread when you touch something that an infected person has just sneezed or coughed on!
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection that is caused by a virus. Typically, an individual with a cold experiences general malaise, fever, headache, and upper respiratory tract congestion. The initial symptoms are usually a watery nasal discharge and sneezing, followed by thicker secretions containing mucus, white blood cells, and dead organisms. The throat may be red, sore, and quite dry. The common cold typically lasts anywhere from four to 10 days.

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Cold and Flu

Cold and Flu

Colds and flu are both viral infections, but have different symptoms. With a cold you will have symptoms such as a runny nose or a sore throat. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and may include fever, body aches or vomiting. While the...

re is no cure for either, there are treatments -- chicken soup, nasal sprays, rest -- which can help your feel better.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.