Common cold: Causes and symptoms

Common cold is caused by a viral infection, usually as a result of coronavirus or rhinovirus infection. During a common cold, your upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) is infected; however, a common cold is often a harmless condition. Signs and symptoms tend to vary amongst individuals as there are many strains of viruses that cause the common cold. If you are not suffering from a sore throat, runny nose and cough, you are most likely to suffer from sneezing, watery eyes and congestion.Common cold

The common cold refers to an inflammation in the throat, which falls under the pharyngitis category. It is the most common viral infection, and statistics show that on an average, children incur these infections more than 5 times per year.

Preschool children are more prone to suffering from common colds because they are more exposed to viruses and their immune system is vulnerable to infections. However, many adults also incur a cold at least once per year. Many cases of common cold report quick recovery in less than 2 weeks. If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.

When common cold is accompanied with other respiratory tract infections—it is collectively called a flu which is very contagious.


Even though there are more than a hundred strains of viruses that cause the common cold, the most common virus is the rhinovirus which leads to a very contagious infection.

It is important that you disregard common myths of colds such as going outside with wet hair, where it is cold and chilly, not wearing jackets or sleeping in an area where there is cold draft—as these are not true.

The common cold is caused by viruses in the air, which are transmitted to the human body through the nose or the mouth. When you come into contact with the air or breathe in the air exposed to someone who just sneezes, the virus will enter your body. Even touching contaminated objects can lead to several infections. When an infected person sneezes while covering his mouth, his hands become contaminated allowing him to easily contaminate every object that is being touched. Additionally, putting your hands or fingers into your mouth or rubbing your eyes with your hands can also cause an infection to be transmitted internally.


Symptoms and signs of a common cold kick in after three days of onset. These include:

  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Mild headaches or body aches
  • Low-grade fever
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild fatigue and weakness

One distinguishing factor between common colds and other common viral infections is the fact that the casualty will only suffer from a mild fever, unlike in other infections. As days pass during the common cold period, you will notice that the discharge from your nose changes color as it becomes yellow or green or becomes much thicker.

When to visit a doctor

For children, you do not have to visit your doctor for a routine infection. However, children get sicker and suffer from many complications and infections such as ear infections. If the following symptoms occur, seek medical help immediately:

  • A fever of 100 F (37.8 C) or above in infants up to 6 weeks
  • A fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or above in young infants and young children between the age of 6 weeks to 2 years
  • A fever of 103 F (39.4 C) or above for young children of 2 years or more
  • A fever that may last for 3 days or more
  • Physical changes such as urinating less often
  • Children are not drinking enough fluids
  • Abdominal pain and/or vomiting
  • Severe headaches
  • Stiff neck
  • Unusual grogginess
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Ear pain
  • Constant crying
  • Persistent cough

For adults, visit your doctor if you suffer from the following symptoms:

  • A fever together with chills, sweating a cough that brings up colored discharge
  • A fever of 103 F (39.4 C) or above
  • Severe sinus pain
  • Swollen glands

If any of the symptoms, for adults or children last for more than 10 years, seek medical attention. To learn to recognize and manage severe medical emergencies enrol into a credible workplace approved first aid and CPR course near you.

Related Video on the Common Cold

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