Antibiotics cannot cure the common cold, one of the most frequent reasons children miss school and adults miss work.
Children have about 6 to 10 colds a year. One important reason why colds are so common in children is because they are often in close contact with each other in daycare centers and schools. In families with children in school, the number of colds per child can be as high as 12 a year.
Adults average about two to four colds a year, although the range varies widely. On average, people older than 60 have fewer than one cold a year.
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More than 200 viruses can cause the common cold, and infections can spread from person to person through the air and close personal contact. Antibiotics do not work against these viruses and do not help you feel better if you have a cold. Rhinovirus is the most common type of virus that causes colds.
There are many things that can increase your risk for the common cold, including:
- Exposure to someone with the common cold
- Age (infants and young children are at higher risk for colds)
- A weakened immune system or taking drugs that weaken the immune system
- Season (colds are more common during the fall and winter)
Signs and Symptoms
When germs that cause colds first infect the nose and sinuses (air-filled pockets in the face), the nose makes clear mucus. This helps wash the germs from the nose and sinuses. After two or three days, mucus may change to a white, yellow, or green color. This is normal and does not mean you or your child needs antibiotics. Other signs and symptoms of the common cold can include:
- Stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Post-nasal drip (mucus dripping down your throat)
- Watery eyes
- Mild headache
- Mild body aches
When you have a cold, mucus fills your nose, causing runny nose, congestion, and mucus to drip down your throat (post-nasal drip), which can cause a sore throat and cough.
These symptoms can last for up to 2 weeks.
When to Seek Medical Care
See a healthcare professional if you or your child has any of the following symptoms:
- Temperature higher than 100.4 °F
- Symptoms that last more than 10 days
- Symptoms that are severe or unusual
If your child is younger than three months of age and has a fever, it’s important to call your healthcare professional right away.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Antibiotics are not needed to treat a cold or runny nose, which almost always gets better on its own. Your healthcare professional will determine what type of illness you or your child has by asking about symptoms and doing a physical examination. Sometimes they will also swab the inside of your nose or mouth.
Since the common cold is caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help it get better and may even cause harm in both children and adults. Your healthcare professional can give you tips to help with symptoms like fever and coughing.
Rest, over-the-counter medicines and other self-care methods may help you or your child feel better. For more information about symptomatic relief, talk to your healthcare professional, including your pharmacist. Remember, always use over-the-counter products as directed. Many over-the-counter products are not recommended for children of certain ages.
Important note about aspirin use by children: Several studies have linked aspirin use to the development of Reye’s syndrome in children recovering from flu or chickenpox. Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious illness that usually occurs in children between the ages of 3 and 12 years. It is recommended that children and teenagers not be given aspirin or medicine containing aspirin when they have any viral illness, such as the common cold.
Over-the-counter cold medicines
Nonprescription cold remedies, including decongestants and cough suppressants, may relieve some of your cold symptoms but will not prevent or even shorten the length of your cold. Moreover, because most of these medicines have some side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, insomnia, or upset stomach, you should take them with care.
Questions have been raised about the safety of nonprescription cold medicines in children and whether the benefits justify any potential risks from the use of these products in children, especially in those under 2 years of age.
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel recommended that nonprescription cold medicines not be given to children under the age of 6, because cold medicines do not appear to be effective for these children and may not be safe.
There are several ways you can keep yourself from getting a cold or passing one on to others.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes and nose
- When possible, avoid being close to people who have colds or if you have a cold
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand.
Handwashing with soap and water is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to keep from getting colds or giving them to others. During cold season, you should wash your hands often and teach your children to do the same. When water isn’t available, consider using alcohol-based products made for disinfecting your hands.
Rhinoviruses can live up to 3 hours on your skin and other objects. Cleaning surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant might help prevent the spread of cold viruses.
Vaccine for the common cold
There is presently no vaccine to prevent the common cold because there are so many different viruses that cause cold symptoms.
Does cold cause colds?
There is no evidence that you can get a cold from exposure to cold weather or from getting chilled or overheated.
There is also no evidence that your chances of getting a cold are related to factors such as exercise, diet, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. However, research suggests that psychological stress and allergic diseases affecting your nose or throat may have an impact on your chances of getting infected by cold viruses.
Cold vs. Allergy
Cold symptoms that recur often or last much longer than 2 weeks may suggest the presence of an allergy rather than a cold infection.