Get the facts on the common cold so it can’t get you


Ratgeber Zentrale

Don't end up like this guy

The common cold, or acute viral nasopharyngitis, is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system, which may involve the nose, throat, sinuses, eustachian tubes, trachea, larynx and bronchial tubes. Colds are one of the leading causes of doctor visits and missed days from school and work. It is estimated that the average person contracts more than 50 colds during a lifetime. Anyone can get a cold.

Adults average about two to four colds annually. Most colds occur during the fall and winter months. Seasonal changes in relative humidity may affect the prevalence of colds. The most common cold viruses survive better when humidity is low during the colder months of the year. Cold weather also may make the inside lining of the nose drier and more vulnerable to viral infection.

Risk Factors and Causes

More than 200 different viruses can cause the common cold. The rhinovirus is the most common. It is responsible for 30-50% of all colds. Cold viruses are usually transmitted by hand contact with secretions that contain the virus, either directly from an infected person or indirectly from environmental surfaces such as telephones and doorknobs. Subsequent rubbing of the eye or nose can lead to infection. Viral transmission can also occur by inhalation. Aerosols from an infected person can enter the respiratory tract of a new host and begin colonization.

Smoking, stress, poor nutrition and lack of sleep are risk factors that can lead to catching a cold. The risk of acquiring a respiratory infection is increased by exposure to cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke can injure and damage the cilia in your airway. Cilia are tiny hair-like structures that help keep airways clear. Stress can lower the resistance to infection by depressing the immune system. Stress causes the adrenal glands to increase production of cortisol which over time can lead to decreased immunity. Poor nutrition can lead to low vitamin and mineral levels, such as Vit A,E,C, the B vitamins, selenium and zinc, which may decrease immunity and increase the chances of getting a cold. Sleep helps the body to recharge. Proper sleep (8 hrs of uninterrupted sleep for an adult) can help keep the body’s immune system healthy and fight off colds.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of a common cold typically appear one to three days after exposure to a cold virus. Symptoms may include fever, runny or stuffy nose, mild fatigue, cough, slight muscle aches, mild headache, sore throat, sneezing and watery eyes. Symptoms can last from 2-14 days. Some individuals may suffer from complications of a cold such as sinusitis, wheezing if they have asthma and acute ear infections.


Antibiotics don’t work on a cold virus. They are only effective against bacteria. Taking an antibiotic for conditions that will not respond to antibiotics, such as a cold or the flu, can lead to antibiotic resistance. There is no evidence that antibiotics shorten the duration or lessen the symptoms of a cold. Treating colds is about comfort. Getting plenty of rest helps your body to fight infection. Drinking plenty of fluids helps to loosen mucus. Gargling with warm salt water can help soothe a sore throat. Saline nasal irrigation can help loosen mucus and moisten tender skin in your nose. Avoid alcohol and tobacco as they both can make cold symptoms worse. Pain relievers and fever reducers such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen can help with a sore throat, body aches and headache. Antihistamines can dry up excess nasal secretions, helping to temporarily stop a runny nose.

Alternative therapies such as immunomodulators may help fight a cold. Echinacea, Elderberry, Zinc and Vitamin C are a just a few of the many immune system stimulators used for treating and preventing colds. These are usually available in a supplement, tea, lozenge, elixir or spray. Echinacea seems to reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms, but evidence has been contradictory. Evidence suggests that Elderberry may lessen the severity of cold and flu symptoms. Vit C may reduce the duration of cold symptoms by a day. Zinc lozenges might reduce the severity and duration of colds if begun within 24-48 hours of symptoms onset.


Washing hands often, using soap and water when available. Consider carrying a bottle of alcohol-based hand rub containing at least 60% alcohol for times when soap and water are not available. These gels kill most germs. Keep kitchen and bathroom counter tops clean. Disinfect solid surfaces at work and at home often (such as door knobs, TV remotes etc). Avoid spreading the virus by sneezing and coughing into tissues. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow. Try to limit your exposure with people who have a cold.

Consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions prior to making therapeutic decisions. The information provided here is intended for informational purposes only. Please contact us at the Student Health Center if you have any questions or concerns.