What is it?
Common cold, also called acute coryza, is an infection of the upper airways including the nose. It is caused by a wide range of viruses and is highly infectious. The most common viruses causing it are the rhinoviruses (‘rhino’ for ‘nose’).
Sneezing spreads the virus in tiny droplets through the air, and onto surfaces such as door handles and bannisters, where people pick it up on their hands. Spread is facilitated by overcrowding and poor ventilation. On the average, individuals get an average of about 3 colds per year. Children get more colds than adults, and can get up to five colds per year.
What are the symptoms?
Common cold causes prominent nasal symptoms and mild systemic disturbance. A sore throat usually precedes sneezing and a profusely runny nose. This is followed by thick yellowish nasal discharge which may persist for up to a week. There may be a headache, tiredness, mild fever and chills, irritability and loss of appetite. There may be a cough distressing enough to keep one awake at night. The cough is dry initially, but thick mucus may start to be produced after some time.
What treatments work?
Treatment is not usually required for common cold. Symptoms clear after a few days. However, there are things that can help on feel better during the illness.
It may help to have some rest and drink a lot of fluids. Breathing in steam with some menthol added often helps to clear a blocked nose. Warm baths may also help do this.
Cough drops and syrups are not recommended for children.
Paracetamol is usually given for aches. Aspirin may also be used but not for children under 18 years of age. Decongestants can help unblock your nose for several hours. Your doctor should decide if they are suitable for you.
Antibiotics don’t work for the viruses that cause colds, so are unnecessary unless the cold is complicated by bacterial infection.
What will happen to me?
Common cold will almost always clear up after 7 to 10 days. If this doesn’t happen, you may want to see a doctor for better evaluation. Infections like ear and chest infections may follow a cold. These can be serious in individuals at the extremes of age. See a doctor for proper management if this happens.