What is the common cold?
The common cold is a viral infection Overview of Viral Infections A virus is a tiny living organism. Viruses are so small they can be seen only with the most powerful microscopes. That's why they're called microorganisms (micro means very small). Other common... read more . It's one of the most common illnesses people get.
Colds spread easily from person to person, especially within the first 2 days of symptoms
Symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, tiredness, and sometimes a mild fever and go away on their own within 4 to 10 days
Being cold or wet doesn’t cause colds or make you more likely to get sick
Having yellow or green-colored mucus is normal in the later stages of a cold—it doesn't mean you need antibiotics or have a more serious infection
Decongestants and antihistamines can help cold symptoms feel better, but don’t give these medicines to children under 4 years old
Because colds are caused by viruses, antibiotics won't cure a cold or make it go away faster
What causes a cold?
Colds are caused by many different viruses. A group of viruses called rhinoviruses are the most common cause. Rhinoviruses tend to cause colds in the spring and fall.
You can get a cold by:
Touching an infected person’s hand after they’ve wiped or blown their nose
Touching something that an infected person has just touched
Wiping an infected child's nose
Breathing in the virus after an infected person coughs or sneezes
What are the symptoms of a cold?
At first, you have:
A scratchy or sore throat
A runny nose with thin, clear discharge (fluid)
Sometimes, a mild fever
Later, you have:
A stuffy nose or a runny nose with thick yellow or green discharge
Feeling tired and sick
A cough, which may linger for up to 2 weeks
See a doctor right away if you have a high fever, a very bad headache, a rash, trouble breathing, or chest pain. You likely have an infection more serious than a cold.
Colds can cause asthma attacks in people with asthma. Colds can also lead to ear or sinus infections.
How can doctors tell if I have a cold?
Doctors can usually tell you have a cold based on your symptoms.
How are colds treated?
Doctors may tell you to:
Rest at home
Drink plenty of fluids
Use a humidifier or vaporizer at night to sleep more comfortably
Doctors may also suggest over-the-counter medicines to help you feel better while you wait for your cold to go away:
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can lessen pain from a sore throat or achy muscles and can also lower fever
Decongestants can open up a stuffy nose
Antihistamines can dry up a runny nose and stop sneezing
Certain cough medicines can thin out mucus to make coughing easier or stop you from coughing
Gargling with salt water can help soothe a sore throat
You may find 2 or more of these medicines in one product, like a cough and cold medicine. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about cold medicines.
Decongestants and antihistamines can cause side effects in very young children. They should not be given to children younger than 4 years old. Salt water nose drops can be given to young children and can help open up a stuffy nose.
Antibiotics and existing antiviral medicines don't work against colds.
How can I prevent colds?
Washing your hands often with soap and water is the best way to keep from getting a cold.
If you have a cold, take steps to keep others from catching it:
Sneeze or cough into a tissue and put the used tissue in the trash
Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after touching used tissues, even your own
Clean household objects, such as toys and door handles, with a disinfectant (a liquid that kills germs)
Stay home from work or school until your symptoms start to go away—you may want to sleep in a different room from healthy family members