The common cold is caused by a number of different viruses, Rhinovirus being the most common.
The common cold occurs year-round, but we see a large number during the fall and winter months. Despite popular thought, colds are not caused by cold climates or being exposed to cold air. Instead, we believe this relationship to be in large part to people having windows closed and being in close quarters in the fall and winter months. This makes transmission of virus more likely.
Colds are transmitted from person-to-person, either by
- Person-to-person contact: people with colds typically carry the cold virus on their hands; if someone touches another person, and this person touches his eye, nose, or mouth, the virus can infect him
- By contact with the virus in your home, workplace, or school. Viruses can live on countertops, door handles, toys, etc for several days.
If you have “caught” this virus, you can expect cold symptoms start one to two days after exposure. Nasal congestion is usually the first and most prominent symptom. When blowing your nose, you may have yellow, or green-colored nasal discharge. Fever (temp greater than 100.4º F rectally) is common during the first three days of the illness. Other common symptoms are sore throat, cough, decreased appetite, and sleep disturbance due to these symptoms.
To date, there is still no cure for the common cold. Antihistamines, decongestants, cough medicines, and expectorants, are all marketed for the symptoms of a cold. However, there are no studies that demonstrate any significant benefit from these. In fact, because there is no efficacy found, the FDA does not recommend these medications in children younger than six.
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are safe in correct doses. These will help with any fever or body aches associated with the cold. Humidified air, either by humdifiier or steam from a shower, can improve symptoms of nasal congestion and runny nose. For infants and children who can’t yet blow their nose, you can try nasal saline to thin the mucus, followed by bulb suction.
Antibiotics are not effective in treating colds. They may be necessary if the cold is complicated by a bacterial infection, like an ear infection, pneumonia, or sinusitis, however.
If you or a family member has any of the following, consult your physician.
- Refusing to drink anything for a prolonged period
- Irritability or decreased responsiveness
- Difficulty breathing, working hard to breathe, or breathing rapidly
- Fever greater than 101ºF lasts more than three days.
- Symptoms of an ear infection (pain, ear pulling, fussiness)