The common cold is an infection that can irritate your nose and throat.
The common cold is caused by a virus. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold.
Factors that may increase your chance of a cold include:
A cold may cause:
The diagnosis is most often based on your symptoms. Generally, tests are not needed to make a diagnosis unless another condition is suspected, such as pneumonia.
A cold usually lasts 10 days or longer. There are no cures for a cold, but treatments can ease symptoms. These include:
To make you more comfortable:
To relieve aches, pains, and fever consider non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Prescription antiviral medication is usually not necessary.
Note: Aspirin can cause serious complications in some children with certain infections. It is best to avoid aspirin or aspirin products for children with infections.
Cough and cold remedies include:
Note: Cough and cold medications should not be used in children under 2 years old, and they are not recommended in children under 4 years old. The US Food and Drug Administration has not completed its review regarding the safety of over-the-counter cough and cold medications in children ages 2-11 years. 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.
Many people use alternative treatments to relieve their cold symptoms. Some of the more popular choices include:
Note: Some supplements and herbal treatments may not be pure. Many can also interact with prescription medications and over-the-counter products. Talk to your doctor before using any of these products.
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:
American Lung Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Public Health Agency of Canada
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
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Last reviewed August 2017 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.