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The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract, which includes your nose and throat.

It's been dubbed the common cold for good reason. On average, adults in the U.S. get two to three colds per year. Children get them even more often.

While the occasional stuffy or runny nose, cough, and itchy throat may be bothersome for a short period of time, colds are typically mild and easily treatable.

Common Cold Symptoms

The common cold can cause slightly different symptoms depending on the person and the specific virus behind the infection. However, there is a set of frequently reported symptoms that most people experience, including:

  • Sneezing

  • Stuffy or runny nose

  • Sore throat

  • Cough

  • Congestion

  • Itchy or watery eyes

Some less common symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Body aches

  • Chills

  • Fatigue

  • Sweating

  • Decreased appetite

  • Post-nasal drip

While cold symptoms can mirror certain flu symptoms, cold symptoms are generally much milder and last for a shorter period of time.

What Causes the Common Cold?

More than 200 viruses can cause the common cold. Rhinoviruses, which can also trigger sinus infections, ear infections, and asthma attacks, are the viruses that most commonly trigger a cold infection. If you come into contact with a cold-causing virus, you may develop a cold.

Viruses that cause the common cold are transmitted from person-to-person. This may happen through direct contact with a person who has the virus or through contact with an object that has the virus on it. For instance, you could contract the virus by shaking hands with someone who has a cold or touching an infected surface and then touching your own nose, eyes, or mouth.

Once the virus is in you, it attaches itself to your cells and starts to replicate. This triggers your immune system to fight against the viral invader, which is what causes your cold symptoms.

Risk Factors

While it's possible to get the common cold at any time of the year, you're most likely to develop it in the winter and spring. Besides the season, age can also play a factor in cold development. While adults have two to three colds a year, children have six to eight a year.

How Is the Common Cold Diagnosed?

There aren’t any lab tests for diagnosing a common cold. Instead, determining if you have the common cold involves considering your symptoms.

A self-scan of your symptoms can help provide some clues. If the symptoms appeared gradually and do not include fever, aches, or fatigue, a cold virus is more likely than the flu or COVID-19.

If you go to a healthcare provider, they will likely conduct a physical exam, ask about your symptoms, and take your vital signs to determine the cause of your illness.

If the provider thinks you may have a more serious infection, like the flu, they may perform a diagnostic test for another virus to rule that out. Knowing whether you have a cold or flu can be especially beneficial if you are considered higher risk for severe viral illness, which includes pregnant people, people with certain chronic diseases, and people who are 65 or older.

Treatments for the Common Cold

There’s no cure for the common cold, so treatment will focus on easing your symptoms as your body fights off the virus. This can include both therapies found at your local drugstore and supportive home remedies such as:

  • Taking over-the-counter cold medications to help relieve symptoms like coughing and stuffy nose

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) for help easing aches and pains

  • Gargling with salt water to calm a sore throat

  • Using a nasal spray for clearing congestion

  • Getting plenty of rest so that your body can recover

  • Drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated

Note that antibiotics won't help treat a common cold. Antibiotics are meant to treat bacterial infections rather than infections from a virus.

How to Prevent the Common Cold

You’ll experience many colds during your lifetime. The common cold is so common that millions of people get it per year, and you won’t be able to prevent every single exposure.

For most adults who do not have an underlying health condition, coming down with a common cold is no cause for alarm. Still, you’ll naturally want to avoid getting sick if possible.

There are a few habits you can employ to help protect yourself and your loved ones from transmitting and catching the common cold:

If you do have a cold, you can help prevent its spread by trying to avoid close contact with others.

Related Conditions

While annoying when you have it, a cold doesn't usually cause any serious health issues for most people. However, people who have a weakened immune system, asthma, or respiratory condition may go on to develop a serious illness, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

A cold may also cause sinusitis, or a sinus infection, or an ear infection. Children with asthma who develop a cold may start to experience wheezing.

Living With the Common Cold

Fortunately, the timeline for a common cold working its way through your system is usually relatively short. Most healthy adults recover within a week or two.

Here's what you can expect as the cold virus progresses:

  • Incubation period: The period of time between exposure to the virus and when you start feeling symptoms is known as incubation. This is when the virus starts replicating in your body. It usually lasts two to three days.

  • Symptom onset: Now, you'll start experiencing the telltale signs of a cold, like a sore throat and runny nose. You're also contagious at this point and are likely to transmit the virus to others.

  • Recovery period: As the infection runs its course, you can typically expect symptoms to last for seven to 10 days. In some cases, a cold may last up to three weeks.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns while dealing with a cold. If you don't get better—or you get worse—after seven to 10 days or if you ever have trouble breathing, reach out to your healthcare provider.

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Read the original article on Health.

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