• Common Cold

    (Viral Rhinitis; Upper Respiratory Infection)


    The common cold is an infection that can irritate your nose and throat.
    Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    The common cold is caused by a virus. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold.

    Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your chance of a cold include:
    • Being near someone who has a cold
    • Touching your nose, mouth, or eyes with contaminated fingers
    • Decreased resistance which can be caused by:
      • Smoking or being near cigarette smoke
      • Stress


    Symptoms can include:
    • Sore or scratchy throat
    • Stuffy nose (hard to breathe through your nose)
    • Runny nose
    • Sneezing
    • Itchy, stuffed sensation in the ears
    • Watery eyes
    • Cough
    • Headache
    • Aches and pains
    • Low energy
    • Low-grade fever


    The diagnosis is most often based on your symptoms.


    A cold usually lasts 10 days or longer. There are no cures for a cold. But there are treatments that can relieve your symptoms, including:

    Home Care

    To make you more comfortable:
    • Stay hydrated. Drink lots of fluids. Warm beverages, like tea, and chicken soup are soothing. They may also help decrease congestion.
    • Use a humidifier. A cool-mist humidifier will keep your nasal passages moist. Humidifiers may also loosen congestion. Be sure to clean the humidifier every day.
    • Try nasal flushing with a neti-pot or saline spray. This can help loosen mucus. You can buy these items at most health food stores and pharmacies
    • Gargle with warm salt water. It can help soothe a sore throat.

    Over-the-Counter Medications

    To relive aches, pains, and fever consider:
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    • Ibuprofen (Motrin)
    Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye's syndrome. Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.
    Cough and cold medications include:
    • Decongestants
    • Expectorants
    • Antihistamines
    • Antitussives (cough suppressants)
    Note: Do not use cough and cold medicines in children younger than 4 years of age. Rare but serious side effects have been reported.
    Decongestant pills or nasal sprays can shrink nasal passages. They also decrease mucus production. Nasal sprays should only be used for 2-3 days. Longer use can lead to increased congestion when you stop using the product.
    Other Products
    • Throat lozenges—every couple of hours to help relieve sore throat and cough.
    • Vapor rub—a topical ointment that contains camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oils. Vapor rub can be applied to the neck and chest. It may help to relieve nighttime symptoms in children older than two years.

    Alternative Treatments

    Many people use alternative treatments to relieve their cold symptoms. Some of the more popular choices include:
    • Vitamin C—Taking extra vitamin C at the start of a cold has not been shown to be of any benefit. Taking 1,000 mg (milligrams) daily throughout the cold season may help reduce symptoms or shorten how long the cold lasts.
    • Zinc lozenges—People who take zinc lozenges at the start of a cold may be able to reduce symptoms. It may also shorten the length of the cold.
    • Echinacea—Echinacea might help people to recover faster from a cold. But, there is little evidence that it can prevent colds if taken in advance.
    • Honey—While honey has not been shown to affect the severity or length of a common cold, it may improve nighttime cough and sleep disruption in children. Do not give honey to infants younger than 12 months because of the risk of infant botulism.
    Other herb preparations include:
    • Pelargonium sidoides—This herb may improve symptoms and speed recovery. It is the main ingredient in products like Umcka ColdCare and Zucol.
    • Andrographis paniculata—This herb may also improve symptoms and speed recovery. It is found in products like KalmCold and Kan Jang tablets.
    Note: Some herbal treatments may not be pure. Many can also interact with prescription medicines and OTC products. Talk to your doctor if you are thinking of using herbs to treat a cold.


    The most important way to keep from getting or spreading a cold is by washing your hands. Wash your hands well and often. Other ways to keep from getting a cold:
    • Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth, and eyes.
    • Stay away from people who have a cold.
    • If you smoke, stop or cut down on smoking.
    • Ask your doctor if taking certain supplements may be right for you.
      • Zinc may reduce your chance of getting a cold.
      • Vitamin C may slightly reduce your chances of getting a cold


    American Academy of Family Physicians http://www.familydoctor.org

    American Lung Association http://www.lung.org


    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    Healthy U http://www.healthyalberta.com


    Cold and cough medicines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/features/pediatriccoldmeds. Updated September 11, 2009. Accessed January 9, 2013.

    Colds and flu. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated February 11, 2011. Accessed January 9, 2013.

    Common cold. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/commonCold/default.htm. Updated February 11, 2011. Accessed January 9, 2013.

    Upper respiratory infection (URI). DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com. Updated December 24, 2012. Accessed January 9, 2013.

    12/4/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Lizogub VG, Riley DS, Heger M. Efficacy of a pelargonium sidoides preparation in patients with the common cold: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Explore (NY). 2007;3:573-584.

    1/30/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Public health advisory: Nonprescription cough and cold medicine use in children—FDA recommends that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products not be used for infants and children under 2 years of age. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm051137.htm. Accessed January 30, 2008.

    1/30/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:1149-1153.

    2/26/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Slapak I, Skoupá J, Strnad P, Horník P. Efficacy of isotonic nasal wash (seawater) in the treatment and prevention of rhinitis in children. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008;134:67-74.

    10/29/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Arruda E, Pitkäranta A, Witek TJ Jr, Doyle CA, Hayden FG. Frequency and natural history of rhinovirus infections in adults during autumn. J Clin Microbiol. 1997;35:2864-2868. Pappas DE, Hendley JO, Hayden FG, Winther B. Symptom profile of common colds in school-aged children. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2008;27:8-11.

    8/6/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Hemila H, Chalker E, Douglas B. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Mar 17;(3):CD000980.

    2/25/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Sing M, Das R. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(2):CD001364.

    7/6/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Paul IM, Beiler JS, King TS, Clapp ER, Vallati J, Berlin CM. Vapor rub, petrolatum, and no treatment for children with nocturnal cough and cold symptoms. Pediatrics. 2010;126(6):1092-1099.

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