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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Common Cold

What is the common cold?

The common cold, also known as a viral upper respiratory tract infection, is a self-limited contagious illness that can be caused by a number of different types of viruses.

What are the causes of the common cold?

More than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause the common cold. Because so many different viruses can cause a cold and because new cold viruses constantly develop, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. For this reason, colds are a frequent and recurring problem. In fact, children in preschool and elementary school can have three to 12 colds per year while adolescents and adults typically have two to four colds per year. The common cold is the most frequently occurring illness in the world, and it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work.

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

Symptoms of the common cold include nasal stuffiness or drainage, sore or scratchy throat, sneezing, hoarseness, cough and perhaps fever and headache. Many people with a cold feel tired and achy. These symptoms will typically last anywhere from three to ten days.

How is the common cold spread?

The common cold is usually spread by direct hand-to-hand contact with infected secretions or from contaminated surfaces. For example, if a person with a cold blows or touches his/her nose and then touches someone else, that person can subsequently become infected with the virus. Additionally, a cold virus can live on objects such as pens, books, telephones, computer keyboards and coffee cups for several hours and can thus be acquired from contact with these objects.

What is the treatment for the common cold?

There is no cure for the common cold. Home treatment is directed at alleviating the symptoms associated with the common cold and allowing this self-limiting illness to run its course.

Supportive measures for the common cold include rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medications such as throat lozenges, throat sprays, cough drops and cough syrups may also help bring relief. Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine or antihistamines may be used for nasal symptoms. Saline sprays and a humidifier may also be beneficial.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with fever, sore throat and body aches.

How can the common cold be prevented?

The most important measure to prevent the common cold is frequent hand washing, as this can destroy viruses that were acquired from touching contaminated surfaces. Also, people should try to avoid sharing utensils and try to use disposable items (such as disposable cups) if someone in their family has a cold. Finally, lifestyle modifications such as smoking cessation and stress management may decrease susceptibility to acquiring the common cold.

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