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The Common Cold - Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatments


The Common Cold

At some point in our lives, we are all affected with the common cold. While adults suffer on average of approximately 2 colds per year, children can suffer from as many as 8 colds each year. This upper respiratory viral infection is by far the most common infectious disease in the United States.

What Causes the Common Cold?

Tiny organisms called rhinoviruses exist in the air we breathe and can be found on most things we come in physical contact with contribute to the common cold. These rhinoviruses gather in our noses and throats and cause what we know as headaches, sore throats and nasal congestion. Dry air tends to lower our bodies resistance as well as smoking or being exposed to second hand smoke. Smokers usually have more colds than non-smokers and their symptoms generally last longer and are more severe.

Signs and Symptoms

The first hint that a cold is forthcoming is often a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, or a throat tickle. If there is nasal discharge, it may change from watery to thick yellow or green.


The first 2 to 4 days after symptoms first present are when colds can be spread. Colds can be spread through person-to-person contact or from inhaling viral particles that are spread through the air from coughing and sneezing or by touching an area contaminated with a rhinovirus.


Since colds can be caused by such a large number of viruses, there is no vaccine to prevent us from catching one. Following are a few helpful hints that may keep the common cold at bay:

  • Cover noses when sneezing and coughing (in order to prevent the spread of germs, it is best to sneeze or cough into a shirt sleeve and not the hands)
  • Wash hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after blowing the nose
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils, cups, and towels.


The common cold will generally last for approximately 1 week. However, if symptoms persist, consult your local pharmacist or physician.


Patience is a virtue when it comes to getting over a cold. There is no medication to cure the common cold but there are some things you can take to be comfortable while your recovering.

Some ways you can help ease cold discomfort include:

  • A cool mist humidifier for increased air moisture
  • Moisturizer under the nose to relieve chaffing
  • Saline drops in the nostrils for relief of nasal congestion
  • A warm bath for relief of body aches

Although it has not been proven by any medical source, many people consider chicken soup is a must have when fighting a cold. There is an ingredient in chicken soup called cysteine that according to research is a mucous thinning amino acid. A big bowl of chicken soup and plenty of liquids should have you back on your feet in no time.

When to Call the Doctor

If you experience any of the following symptoms call your doctor:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe throat pain that is worst when you swallow
  • Coughing up excessive amounts of mucous
  • Unusual loss of energy
  • Unable to keep solids or liquids down
  • Earache
  • Stomach pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes

As with any viral infection, a cold must run its course.