Common Cold: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Home Remedies

What is Common cold?

Friends, in this article, I am explaining to you an infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract, from which all of you suffer from at least once a year, and that condition is called Common Cold.

It primarily affects the nose, but in some individuals’ larynx, throat and sinuses may also be affected.

It is also known by other names like Cold, acute coryza, viral rhinitis, nasopharyngitis, rhinopharyngitis, and acute viral nasopharyngitis.

Friends, it is a viral disease and over 200 different virus strains are known to cause this disease.

Among these strains rhinoviruses are the most common causative cause.

This infection directly spread through the air by close contact with the infected person; or spread indirectly through contact with the objects (contaminated by the infected person), followed by transfer of the virus to the nose or mouth.

Its signs and symptoms usually appear in less than 2 days after initial exposure to the virus.

Its common symptoms are sneezing, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, fever, etc.  

Infected person usually recover from this infection in one week to three weeks’ time.

Friends, the most important thing about the common cold which you should know is, the symptoms of this disease are most likely due to your body’s immune response to the infection and not because of tissue destruction by the viruses themself.

What are the Causes of Common Cold?

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract and is caused by over 200 different strains of the virus.

It is spread directly through the air when you inhale virus particles from an infected person’s cough, sneeze, or speech. And it can spread indirectly through contact with the contaminated object, followed by the transfer of the virus to the nose or mouth.

These strains of viruses causing common cold can be classified into groups. Some important groups of these strains are: –

1) Rhinoviruses

With approximately 100 known types, this group of viruses is the most common cause of the common cold. These viruses can live up to three hours on contaminated hard surfaces.

Rhinoviruses grow rapidly in the temperature range of 33°C to 35° (the range found in the nose). These viruses are highly communicable during the autumn and winter months.

Approximately 40 to 50% of all colds are caused by these viruses.

2) Human Coronaviruses

This group of viruses is RNA viruses that can infect mammals and birds. In human beings, they cause mild to severe respiratory tract infections.

Mild illnesses in human beings caused by this group include common cold just like as caused by Rhinoviruses; while severe infections include SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), and COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019).

There are seven strains of Human coronaviruses, which vary in their risk factor. 

HCoV-OC43, HCoV-HKU1, HCoV-229E, and HCoV-NL63; are the four Human coronaviruses that produce mild symptoms of the common cold. Approximately 15% of all colds are caused by these viruses.

The severe respiratory tract infections are caused by three strains (MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2) of human coronaviruses.

3) Adenoviruses

This group of viruses can cause illnesses like the common cold, acute bronchitis, pneumonia, conjunctivitis, acute gastroenteritis, etc.

Heat and bleach (a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite) can kill adenoviruses on objects.

Approximately 5% of all colds are caused by these viruses.

4) Human Parainfluenza Virus (HPIV)

This group has only four viruses (namely HPIV-1, HPIV-2, HPIV-3, and HPIV-4). These can cause upper or lower respiratory tract infection. HPIV-1 is the main cause of croup in children, which is a respiratory infection with swelling around the larynx (voice box), trachea, and bronchial tubes.

Symptoms of infections caused by this group (HPIV) are similar to common cold.

The infections are mild in most people but can be severe in people with weak immunity.

5) Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV or RSV) causes respiratory infections, in which infected cells of the mucosa fuse together and form a syncytium (a multinucleate cell that is formed by multiple fusions of uninuclear cells).

HRSV produces symptoms in adults which are undistinguishable from common cold.

But in some children, HRSV can cause bronchiolitis which leads to severe respiratory illness.

HRSV can live up to five hours on contaminated hard surfaces.

What are the symptoms of a Common Cold?

The symptoms of a common cold usually appear in less than 2 days after initial exposure to the virus.

These symptoms are different from person to person.

Symptoms affecting the nose and head are:

Runny or stuffy nose

Nasal congestion


Loss of smell or taste

Watery nasal secretions

Postnasal drip (mucus going down your throat)

Sinus pressure


Sore throat


Watery eyes

Symptoms affecting the whole body are:



Body aches

Low grade fever

Lack of appetite

Sore throat is usually the first symptom to appear in common cold and is followed by a runny nose.

Fever may or may not be present in adults; but is common in children.

Cough is generally mild in common cold as compared to influenza.

The color of the nasal mucus may be clear and watery or may become yellow or green.

This yellow or green coloration of the mucus is due to the reason that your infection is progressing and your immune system is fighting against your infection. The mucus is carrying the increased number of immune system cells or increased number of enzymes, produced by these cells.

Within a few days, this nasal discharge tends to dry up.

What’s the difference between a Common Cold and the Flu?

Both the common cold and the Flu are viral respiratory infections and share some common symptoms like:


Runny or stuffy nose

Body aches


So, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between a Common Cold and the Flu at first.

But, the symptoms of flu appear suddenly as compared to those of common cold.

Flu symptoms are more severe than that of cold.

Flu can cause additional health problems like pneumonia, ear infections, or sepsis whereas cold rarely causes such health problems.

What are the stages of a common cold?

Common cold has three stages:

Stage 1

Days 1 to 3

Symptoms: Sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, fatigue and sneezing.

It is important to take rest as much as possible to reduce fatigue.

Stage 2

Days 4 to 7

Symptoms: Cough, congestion, fatigue and fever may or may not be present.

In this stage, you can also notice that nasal secretions or mucus have become thicker and the color of the mucus may change from clear and watery to yellow or green.

Stage 3

Days 8 to 10

Symptoms:  Runny or stuffy nose, cough and congestion.

Within 8 to 10 days, most people usually start to recover and feel better. But the common cold symptoms may last longer than 10 days or may become severe in people having weakened immune system.

Diagnosis of the Common Cold

The common cold mainly affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Most people suffering from this infection can be diagnosed with their signs and symptoms.

Self-diagnosis is very frequent.

Your doctor can advise you a chest X-ray or blood tests to exclude bacterial or other infections. Isolation of the viral agent involved in the infection is very rarely performed.

Differential diagnosis: allergic rhinitis, sinusitis and bronchitis.

What are the Risk Factors for the Common Cold?

The common cold is a highly communicable infection, but some conditions increase your risk of getting infected with this. These are:


Children under the age of 6 can easily get infected with this infection.

Time of the year

You can get this infection at any time of the year, but your chances of getting infected are higher in the fall and winter months.


People going to places with lots of people are more likely to catch this infection.

Weakened immune system

Persons with the weak immune system are more likely to get infected by this infection (and this weakened immune system can be due to illness like cancer, HIV, etc., or due to the use of immunosuppressant medicines like in organ transplant, etc.)


Smokers are also at increased risk than non-smokers.

How to Prevent the Common Cold?

Vaccine for the Common Cold

A vaccine is very important for the prevention of a particular disease. But there is no vaccine for the common cold.

The main difficulty for developing a vaccine for the cold is that there are over 200 different virus strains which cause this infection.

Precautions to be taken to Prevent the Common Cold

It is impossible to completely prevent the spread of the common cold viruses. But by following these steps you can reduce, which I am describing below, you can reduce your chances of becoming infected with this virus. These steps are:

1)  Wash your hands often

This step can be the best measure to prevent the spread of this virus.

You should clean your hands with soap and water, and if soap and water are not available (most likely if you are visiting public places) you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Cleaning your hands becomes more necessary in situations like if you are coming from shopping, or after traveling in public transport, etc.

Cleaning your hands frequently will destroy the virus you might have acquired from touching the surfaces used by other persons.

2)  Use of a face mask

Use of a face mask when you are around or near a person who is infected can prevent you from getting infected with the common cold.

3) Avoid touching your face when an infected person is near you

Yes, friends you read right.

You should avoid touching your face (especially your nose and eyes areas) when a person infected with a common cold is around you and he/she is contaminating the surfaces.

4) Keep your household surfaces clean

An infected person can contaminate doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, countertops, etc. by using them.

So, you should frequently disinfect these surfaces with a good disinfectant, when someone in your family is suffering from the common cold.

5) If a family member is suffering then avoid sharing items

Friends, if someone in your family is infected with this infection, then you shouldn’t share drinking glasses, cups, or utensils with that member.

This could be very helpful in preventing spread of the disease in children.

6) Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle like doing exercise regularly, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep is very important; it will make your immune system strong.

And if you get suffered from the common cold your body will fight with the infection easily.

What is the Treatment of the Common Cold?

Friends, tell me how many of you have asked your doctor for the cure for the common cold?

I think most of you.

And your doctor might have told you that in medical science there is a no cure for this infection.

You know your doctor is 100% correct.

Till now there is not any single antiviral medicine, which can fight with the viruses causing the common cold.

Friends, all of you know that this infection is caused by over 200 different virus strains. So antibiotics are of no use, as these medicines are used to treat infections caused by bacteria.

There is no cure for the common cold; it is a self-limiting disease that gets resolve spontaneously with time.

Its treatment is totally directed at relieving the signs and symptoms related to the common cold while your body fights off the infection.

Common cold treatment falls into following main categories:

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines for the Common Cold

The most commonly used Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for the common cold usually contain antihistamines, pain relievers, and decongestants.

Pain relievers     

For fever, headache and body ache many people use pain relievers. Mostly used pain relievers are acetaminophen and ibuprofen.


These may relieve symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes.


These are used to reduce the symptoms of a stuffy nose and are helpful in relieving congestion in the upper respiratory tract. These are available as tablets, syrups, and nasal drops or sprays.

Decongestant nasal drops or sprays     

These nasal drops or sprays can help to clear the nasal cavity. These should not be used for more than seven days at a time. These sprays should also be avoided by children younger than six years.

Cough syrups

Cough syrups containing antihistamines and cough suppressants help to relieve cough, sneezing, and sore throat.

Alternative Medicine

Vitamin C        

Regular intake of vitamin C doesn’t reduce your chances of getting the common cold but reduces the duration of its symptoms.


Taking zinc or zinc lozenges may shorten the duration and severity of symptoms of common cold if taken within 24 hours of the appearance of the first symptom.

Bad taste and nausea are some of its side effects. Intranasal zinc cold remedies should not be used as these may cause long term or permanent damage to the sense of smell. 


Echinacea belongs to the daisy family. Leaves and roots of this plant are used in traditional medicine. It may boost your immune system.

Echinacea may reduce your chances of getting a common cold and may also decrease the duration of its symptoms.  If you are not allergic to Echinacea then only you should use it.

Home Remedies for the Common Cold

Below are some of the top home remedies for the common cold:


During cold, you should take a low fat and high fiber diet.

Drink plenty of fluids

Yes, friends, you should drink plenty of fluids during the common cold to maintain hydration. Fluids like water, juice, lukewarm lemon water, etc. can be used. But alcohol should be avoided.

Take adequate rest

You should take rest and stay home from your work or school. Taking rest will help you recover fast or if you are drowsy after taking medicines.

Gargle with warm salt water

For making warm salt water mix ½ teaspoon of salt in approximately 250 ml of warm water. It may temporarily relieve a sore throat.

It works by hydrating your throat and the salt in it helps cope with the infection. You can repeat gargle two to three times a day.

Saline nasal drops

You can buy these drops from the market. These are very helpful in relieving nasal congestion.

Consuming Chicken soup

Warm fluids like chicken soup help to clear nasal congestion and thin mucus so that you can cough it up easily. They also soothe your sore throat.

Controlling your room’s temperature and humidity

Keeping your room warm and humid can ease congestion and coughing.

If the air in your room is dry then you can use a humidifier.

Some more Natural Home Remedies for the Common Cold

These are some natural home remedies which you can use at home to get relief:

Cinnamon and honey

Take ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder and 1 tablespoon of honey.

Mix them well and consume this mixture. You can consume this mixture 1 to 2 times a day.

Due to the antiviral properties of cinnamon, you will get relief from the common cold symptoms.

Turmeric milk

Take a glass of warm milk and mix one teaspoon of turmeric powder in it.

Drink this milk at bedtime; it will relieve your common cold symptoms.

You can consume this milk every night till your cold goes away.

Ginger and honey

Mix ¼ teaspoon of ginger juice in 1 teaspoon of honey.

Consuming this mixture, will soothe you symptoms.

A Decoction (kadha) for the Common Cold

For making this decoction you need following ingredients:

Water2 glass
Cloves2 pieces
Honey1 teaspoon
Black pepper2 pieces
Holy basil5 leaves
Gingera small piece (about 1 inch long)

Grind a piece of ginger, 5 holy basil leaves, 2 cloves and 2 black peppercorns.

Add 2 glass of water and put it on flame.

Heat this mixture until the water remains half the quantity i.e. 1 glass.

Sieve this hot mixture.

Drink this decoction after mixing 1 teaspoon of honey in it.

This decoction may relieve symptoms of your cold as the herbs used in this decoction have antiviral properties. You can consume one glass of this decoction one to two times a day.

What is the Prognosis for the Common Cold?

Friends, the prognosis for the common cold is very good. Generally, this infection runs its natural course i.e. its most symptoms get cured by themselves within a week’s time.

Most of the adults infected with this infection recover within 7 to 10 days, while most of the children get recovered in 10 to 15 days’ time. However, certain viral strains may take up to three weeks to completely recover.

This infection can cause complications in very old people or small children or people with a weakened immune system.

The most common complications of the common cold are bacterial sinusitis, otitis media (a bacterial infection of the middle ear), or bacterial pharyngitis.

Although very uncommon, pneumonia can also develop as a complication in some individuals.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does the common cold last?

Friends, the symptoms of common cold appear within 2 days after initial exposure to the virus. And within 8 to 10 days from the exposure to the virus, most of the people usually start to recover.

But certain strains of virus causing this infection may take up to 3 weeks’ time.

Is the common cold a viral or a bacterial infection?

Common cold is caused by over 200 different strains of virus; hence it is a viral infection.

Do you get a temperature with a cold?

Temperature may or may not be present with other symptoms of the cold

In adults, fever is uncommon but if present is usually a low-grade. Fever is more likely to be present in children with other symptoms of the cold. 

Why antibiotics can’t help to treat the Common Cold?

Friends, antibiotics are the medicines used to treat bacterial infections and you know that common cold is a viral infection; so antibiotics are of no use in the treatment of the virus.

Why is there not a Vaccine for the Common Cold?                                  

A vaccine provides active acquired immunity against a particular disease.

But friends, there is no vaccine for the common cold.

The main difficulty for developing a vaccine for the cold is that there are over 200 different virus strains which cause this infection.



This article is intended for informational purposes only. Any information associated with this article should not be considered as a substitute for prescription suggested by local health care professionals.


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