We all dread the common cold, don’t we?

This all-too-familiar adversary is a viral infection that plagues your upper respiratory tract, bringing with it a medley of sneezes, coughs and congestion.

In this blog post we look into the various aspects of your common cold, such as its symptoms, causes, stages, misconceptions, prevention strategies and treatment options.

What is Common Cold?

Common cold is a viral infection that affects your upper respiratory tract. It is a prevalent illness, and most people will experience multiple colds throughout their lives.

Although usually mild and self-limiting, this viral infection can cause discomfort and disrupt your daily activities.

Why is it Important to Understand Common Cold?

With numerous myths and misconceptions surrounding common cold, it is essential to understand its causes, symptoms and treatment options.

  • Prevalence: This viral infection is extremely prevalent, affecting millions of people worldwide each year. Gaining knowledge about it is crucial to reduce its impact on your life.
  • Prevention: Understanding the causes and risk factors can help you adopt effective prevention strategies, reducing the likelihood of catching a cold or spreading it to others.
  • Effective Treatment: Knowing about proper treatments and debunking misconceptions can lead to better symptom management and faster recovery, minimising discomfort and disruptions to your daily life.
  • Complications: Recognising potential complications and knowing when to seek medical help can prevent more severe health issues, particularly for vulnerable people.
  • Public Health: Greater awareness about it contributes to better overall public health. It also minimises the misuse of antibiotics and promotes informed health decisions.

Stages of a Cold

Stage 1: Early Symptoms

The first stage of a cold typically involves a scratchy or sore throat, sneezing and a runny nose. These early symptoms usually appear within 1-3 days of exposure to the virus.

Stage 2: Peak Symptoms

The second stage involves the peak of symptoms, which can include a stuffy nose, cough and mild fatigue. This stage generally occurs around days 3-5 of the illness.

Stage 3: Recovery

During the recovery stage, symptoms gradually subside, and most people feel better within 7-10 days. However, a lingering cough or congestion may persist for up to two weeks.

Symptoms of Common Cold

Understanding the common cold’s various symptoms is essential for early detection and effective management.

Here, we present a list of symptoms that may signify its unwelcome arrival.

  • Congested or runny nose
  • Irritated, itchy throat
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Mild fever
  • Teary eyes
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Slight, persistent cough
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Mild tiredness
  • Nasal discharge that may thicken and change colour over time (yellow or green)

How Common Cold Spreads

The common cold spreads through various means, making it highly contagious.

Here are the specific ways it can spread:

  • Respiratory droplets: When an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, they release respiratory droplets containing the virus. These droplets can be inhaled by others nearby, leading to infection.
  • Direct contact: Touching an infected person, such as shaking hands or hugging, can transfer the virus from his/her skin to yours. If you then touch your face, particularly your nose, mouth or eyes, you may become infected.
  • Contaminated surfaces: The cold virus can survive on hard surfaces for hours, sometimes even days. If you touch an object or surface contaminated with the virus and then touch your face, you may become infected. Common surfaces include doorknobs, light switches, phones and keyboards.
  • Airborne transmission: In enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, it is possible for the virus to remain suspended in the air, leading to airborne transmission. This is less common but may still contribute to the spread of the viral infection.

To reduce the risk of catching or spreading the viral infection, it is essential to practice good hygiene, such as regular handwashing, using hand sanitiser and covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

Viruses Responsible for the Viral Infection

While numerous viruses can cause common cold, some are more frequently responsible for this widespread infection. The primary viruses include:

  • Rhinovirus: The most common culprit, rhinovirus accounts for up to 50% of cold cases. This virus has over 100 different strains, making it difficult to develop immunity or vaccines.
  • Coronavirus: Not to be confused with the virus responsible for COVID-19, coronaviruses can also cause the common cold. There are multiple strains, some of which lead to mild cold symptoms.
  • Adenovirus: This virus is responsible for a smaller percentage of colds but can lead to more severe respiratory symptoms, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV): RSV typically causes mild cold symptoms in adults and older children. However, it can lead to more severe respiratory issues, especially in infants and elderly people.
  • Parainfluenza Virus: This virus can cause cold-like symptoms, but in some cases, it may also lead to croup or bronchitis, particularly in young children.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase your likelihood of catching a common cold. These risk factors include:

  • Age: Children, particularly those under six years of age, are more susceptible to catching colds due to their still-developing immune systems and frequent contact with other children at school or daycare.
  • Weakened immune system: People with compromised immune systems, such as those with chronic illnesses or undergoing treatments like chemotherapy, are at a higher risk of contracting colds.
  • Season: Colds are more common during fall and winter months when people tend to spend more time indoors in close proximity to others, increasing the chances of virus transmission.
  • Lack of sleep: Inadequate sleep can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to catching a cold.
  • Stress: Prolonged periods of stress may suppress the immune system, increasing the risk of contracting a cold.
  • Smoking: Smokers are more likely to catch colds as smoking can impair the immune system and damage the protective lining of the respiratory tract.
  • Exposure: Frequent exposure to crowded places, such as public transportation, schools or offices, can increase the chances of coming into contact with cold viruses.

You need to be aware of these risk factors so that you can help yourself adopt preventive measures and minimise your chances of catching a cold.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle, practise good hygiene and manage your stress effectively. This will contribute to your stronger immune system and your better overall health.

Misconceptions and Myths

Let’s debunk the myths and misconceptions surrounding common cold first in order to make better-informed health decisions regarding prevention and treatment.

Antibiotics cure common cold

Antibiotics target bacterial infections, not viral infections like the common cold.

Using antibiotics to treat a cold is not only ineffective but can also contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Vitamin C prevents or cures colds

While vitamin C is essential for your health, it has not been proven either to prevent or cure the viral infection.

However, some studies suggest it may slightly reduce the severity and duration of symptoms in some people.

Cold weather causes colds

Cold weather itself does not cause colds.

However, people tend to spend more time indoors during colder months, increasing the likelihood of exposure to cold viruses.

Feed a cold, starve a fever

This old adage has no scientific basis.

It is crucial to maintain proper nutrition and hydration during any illness to support recovery.

You’re most contagious before symptoms appear

While you can be contagious before displaying cold symptoms, you’re generally most contagious during the first two to three days of the illness when symptoms are most prominent.


Sinus Infections

Colds can sometimes lead to sinus infections, causing symptoms such as facial pain and pressure, and green or yellow nasal discharge.

Middle Ear Infections

Cold viruses can spread to the middle ear, causing a painful ear infection, especially in children.

Asthma Exacerbations

Colds can trigger asthma flare-ups, leading to increased wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Lower Respiratory Tract Infections

In rare cases, colds can lead to more severe lower respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, especially in people with weakened immune systems.

When to Seek Medical Help

If you experience severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, high fever or symptoms lasting longer than 10 days, it is essential to seek medical help, as these could be signs of complications or another illness.


Diagnosing common cold is usually based on reported symptoms, as they are quite recognisable. However, cold symptoms can sometimes resemble those of bacterial infections, allergies or other medical conditions.

In cases where symptoms are severe or persistent, it’s important to consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. He/she may perform additional tests, such as throat swabs or blood tests, to confirm the diagnosis or identify the specific virus or other underlying cause.


There are no approved and effective antiviral medications available for treating common cold.

But this viral infection is generally a self-limiting illness, and the focus of treatment remains on alleviating symptoms and providing comfort during the recovery process.

  • Rest: Give your body enough rest to allow your immune system to fight the infection.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids like water, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey to help thin mucus, soothe your throat and maintain proper hydration.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever, headache and body aches. Decongestants, antihistamines and cough suppressants may also provide relief from specific cold symptoms. Always follow the recommended dosage and consult your doctor before using OTC medications, especially for children.
  • Nasal saline solution: A saline nasal spray or rinse can help relieve congestion and improve breathing.
  • Humidifier: Using a cool-mist humidifier or vaporiser in your room can add moisture to the air, helping to ease your congestion and making it easier for you to breathe.
  • Warm compresses: Applying warm compresses to your face, particularly around the sinuses, can help alleviate pressure and discomfort.
  • Throat lozenges and gargles: Sucking on throat lozenges or using a warm saltwater gargle can help soothe your sore throat.
  • Herbal remedies: Some natural remedies, such as echinacea, zinc and elderberry, may provide relief from cold symptoms. However, their effectiveness remains inconclusive, and you should consult doctor before using any herbal remedies.


Hand Hygiene

Regular handwashing with soap and water or using hand sanitiser can help prevent the spread of cold viruses.

Respiratory Etiquette

Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and disposing of tissues properly can help prevent the spread of cold viruses to others.

Strengthening Your Immune System

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, balanced diet and adequate sleep, can help support your immune system and reduce your risk of catching a cold.


Understanding the common cold is crucial for effective prevention and treatment.

By debunking misconceptions surrounding it, practicing good hygiene and seeking appropriate care, we can mitigate the impact of the common cold and greatly reduce its recurrence.


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Sources: Mayo Clinic (1, 2), CDC, emedicinehealth, Cleveland Clinic, Healthline (1, 2), Johns Hopkins (1, 2), NCBI (1, 2, 3), PMC, DHS.