Diseases & Conditions


ColdCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatment

What is Cold?

Common cold is a self limiting condition that is caused by a virus. It is the most common infection of the human species.

Causes of Cold

Common cold is caused by a virus, that has several subtypes. The most common type of virus that causes cold is called Rhinovirus. The infection produces symptoms within 2 to 5 days after contracting it. It is often spread by breathing in virus laden air, that is either coughed or exhaled by an infected person. There are other viruses as well like coronavirus, influenza, which produce similar conditions. Since there are so many types and subtypes, it is not possible to immunize against the common cold.

Medications for Cold

There are no antiviral medications for common cold. Antibiotics cannot be used. Medications that can be used for managing symptoms include

  • analgesics like ibuprofen
  • Paracetamol
  • Ipratropium nasal spray is an Anticholinergics
  • Honey is used for suppressing mild coughs. However it should not be given to infants younger than 1 year as it increases the risk of botulism

Prevention of Cold

Cold infection can be prevented by restricting contact with infected people. Frequent washing of hands can reduce the chances of infection by as much as 20%. However since most of the infection takes place through air borne particles, washing hands alone is not enough. Care must be taken to not touch the eyes, nose or mouth when infected.

Risk factors of Cold

The risk of catching a cold infection increases due to these risk factors

  • Spending time in confined places, where the ventilation is not good or if there is close contact with an infected person
  • Inhaling the air sneezed out or exhaled by an infected person
  • Touching eyes and nose with infected hands. Since the hands are often infected first with the virus, this increases the chances of the virus entering the body
  • Smoking increases the time that the virus stays in the body
  • Lack of sleep has shown to raise the chances of infection to rhinovirus
  • Individuals with low vitamin D levels are more susceptible to infection
  • If the weather is less humid, the chances of infection are higher.
  • Individuals with stronger immune system have symptoms that are more likely to be worse than those with weaker immune system. This is because the symptoms are due to reaction of the immune system and not the virus itself.

Symptoms of Cold

The symptoms of common cold include

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Nasal Congestion
  • Headaches
  • Loss appetite
  • Shivering

How different is cold from influenza?

While both the conditions have similar conditions, the symptoms of cold are mild when compared to that of influenza. They also do not last as long and are self limiting. Influenza on the other hand can make a person very sick and it can also result in complications if not treated on time. For treating influenza, there are specific laboratory tests available.

Treatment of Cold

There is no treatment for common cold in any system of medicine. However the symptoms of common cold can be managed with the help of medication and rest.

Cough and nasal congestion with sore throat and runny nose are most common symptoms. These influenza symptoms can be managed with cough medication and simple analgesics. Using a saline nasal spray can relieve some nasal congestion.

For children in particular and adults in general, a chest vapor rub can provide some relief and permit sleep at night by relieving night coughs. Sore throat can be managed by gargling with warm salt water.

The cold symptoms of fever, headache and dehydration can be managed with sleep and fluids. Taking rest often helps get rid of infection faster, as the immune system is stronger after adequate rest.