Common Cold Causes, Prevention and Symptoms

You caught one: runny nose, sore throat, and exhaustion…most everyone has experienced the common cold symptoms. But how do you know if it’s really a cold or something more serious?

Keep reading to learn the signs and symptoms of the common cold, and also what you can do to prevent it!

What Causes the Common Cold?

It goes by several names: a head cold, chest cold, the sniffles…but either way, getting a cold is a bummer and can really put a kink in your day.

We have a vaccine for the flu, so why not one for the common cold?

Well, over 200 types of cold viruses have been identified.

Rhinovirus is the most common offender causing between 10% and 40% of colds. Other viruses include coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) , and parainfluenza virus.

Colds are not just a drain on us physically, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 22 million school days are missed in the US per year due to the common cold!

How Does the Common Cold Spread?

Cold viruses love to live in people’s nasal secretions and mucus. They travel on very small mucus particles called droplets.

When someone sneezes or blows their nose, hundreds of thousands of cold virus particles are attached to those mucus droplets. That sneeze can land on near by objects or people! Gross!

Common cold viruses can live for days on a surface like a table, light switch, or keyboard.

When an unsuspecting person touches that object and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes, they infect themselves with the cold virus.

What are Symptoms of the Common Cold?

Some of the most common cold symptoms are:

Cold symptoms - Runny nose
Runny or stuffy nose is, with sneezing, the most common cold symptom
  • Congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Watery eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Mucus draining from your nose (runny nose)

Some symptoms that are not associated with  the common cold and may indicate that you have another illness are:

  • Fever
  • Body Aches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Neck Pain

If you have any of those symptoms, you may have another condition, such as a flu,  and should probably contact your physician.

How Long Does a Cold Last?

Most colds last about 5-10 days. Sometimes when your body is vulnerable due to a cold, it is more susceptible to other infections.

For example, sometime people start out with a common cold symptoms, but they end up with bacterial pneumonia because their body was so busy fighting the cold, it could not prevent the pneumonia.

If your cold seems to last for more than 10 days, you might need treatment for another condition like a sinus infection or bronchitis.

How Can You Prevent a Cold?

Most colds in North America occur in the fall and winter time. It may be due to people spending more time indoors and in close contact.

Also the dry air associated with winter and fall can dry out your nasal passages which increases your chance of the virus infecting the cells in your nasal cavity.

So how do you prevent a cold when everyone is coughing and sneezing, spreading virus droplets everywhere?

  • Wash your hands! This is the BEST way to prevent both the cold and the flu. You can use alcohol based hand sanitizer as well.Hand sanitizer to prevent cold
  • Stop touching your face! This is a difficult habit to break but every time you touch your face during the day, you’re transferring germs onto your body.
  • Sip tea! The steam from hot drinks stimulates the hair follicles in your nares, helping to move out foreign substances.
  • Sanitize! When was the last time you cleaned your TV remote or the steering wheel of your car? Rhinovirus can live on a surface for 48 hours!
  • Hold your breath! If someone sneezes near you, move to a 6-10 foot radius away from the cloud of droplets before your breathe in.
  • Use saline spray! A topical nasal spray in the winter time can help decrease nasal dryness and flush out viruses.

What Are Treatment Options for a Cold

The best way to treat a cold is fluids and rest!

To improve cold symptoms to get you through the day, consider a one of the cold medications below or a combination of products:

WARNING: Talk to your physician before taking a cold medication if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure.

When Should You See a Physician?

The symptoms of a cold can be similar to other infectious diseases that are more serious like meningitis, the flu, or a sinus infection.

Make sure to contact your physician if you have a fever, neck pain, or your cold lasts longer than 10 days.


When was the last time you caught the common cold, and what did you do to survive those nasty symptoms?


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