What is a common cold?
A cold is a respiratory infection caused by a virus. There are over 100 different viruses that can cause colds. Colds are very common, especially among young children. Colds generally last for 1 to 2 weeks and are more common in the fall and winter when people are in close contact with one another indoors. Colds may lead to ear infections or pneumonia.
What are the symptoms of the common cold?
Symptoms can include:
- runny nose
- nasal congestion
- decreased appetite
- slight fever
- slight sore throat
Most often colds are mild and symptoms will improve after a few days.
You should see a health care provider if your illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is the common cold spread?
Colds spread easily from person to person. When a person with a cold coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the virus can spread short distances through the air to other people. The droplets can also land on surfaces and objects in the environment and can be picked up on the hands of others who can then become infected when they touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
The time it takes to show symptoms after getting infected ranges between 12 hours to 5 days, usually it is about 48 hours.
People with colds can spread the virus from 1 day before to 5 days after the start of symptoms.
How is the common cold treated?
There is no cure for the common cold. Colds usually go away by themselves. Drink plenty of fluids and eat small nutritious meals. Contact your health care provider or pharmacist for advice on treatment.
Antibiotics will not be given for a cold because they will not cure infections caused by a virus.
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicine should not be given to children under 6 years of age unless prescribed by a health care provider. Speak to a health care provider or pharmacist before giving these medicines to children between 6 to 12 years of age.
You can treat mild symptoms at home. Learn more about treating a common cold.
How is the common cold prevented?
Simple infection prevention and control practices can reduce the spread of infection.