What is the Common Cold?

Overview  |  Symptoms  |  Complications  |  Diagnosis  |  Treatment 

A cold is a common infection caused by a virus; there are over 200 types of germs which can cause a cold. A cold typically affects the nose and upper airways, caused by germs that attack the lining of the nose and throat, causing inflammation and excess mucus. A cold can be caught by breathing in fluid droplets containing germs, which become airborne through an infected person sneezing or coughing. Additionally, touching an object after droplets containing the cold virus have come into contact with it, is also another way to catch a cold. When you have a cold, you are usually contagious for up to two weeks.

Symptoms of a Cold

As the cold virus attacks the lining of your nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways, these are the areas that are typically affected. Symptoms of a common cold include:

  • sore throat
  • coughing
  • blocked nose
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • generally feeling unwell and tired
  • ear aches
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of taste and smell
  • mild fever
  • headaches
  • muscle pain

Complications of a Cold

Complications from a cold don’t usually happen. However, very rarely, a cold may lead to tonsillitis, sinusitis (infection/inflammation of the sinuses), chest infections and a middle ear infection.

How is a Cold Diagnosed?

A cold does not usually require a diagnosis as most people can diagnose themselves based on typical symptoms. However, if symptoms are particularly bad – dark mucous, sinus pains, difficulty swallowing or breathing – then you should see your doctor.

Treating a Cold

For the majority of us, symptoms of a cold will go away within a week without treatment. The aim of treatment  is to relieve symptoms, which can be done with over-the-counter cold medication. Other treatment can include:

  • drinking fluids to prevent dehydration
  • plenty of rest
  • painkillers – paracetamol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen or aspirin
  • decongestants – Medication used to relieve a blocked nose
  • menthol lozenges are good for a sore throat