Common Cold Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Remedies

Common cold, as the name suggests, is the most common reason for making people sick.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the most frequent reason why children miss school, and adults miss work.  While adults, on an average, might have two to three infections every year, it is even more prevalent among the children.


Common cold generally referred to as cold, is a disease caused by viruses in the upper respiratory tract .  It all starts with the nose.  The nose contains curled shelf-like structure (on the side wall on the inside of the nose) called turbinates, which help trap particles entering into the nasal passages.  Material deposited in the nose is transported to the back of the throat in 10-15 minutes.  Cold viruses are believed to be carried to the back of the throat where they are deposited in the area of the adenoid (a lymphatic tissue situated where the nasal passage blends into throat).  Cold viruses attach to adenoid and this is how you catch a cold.  A cold virus may even enter your body through your mouth too.

When you have a cold, mucus fills up your nose, causing runny nose, congestion, and mucus to drip down your throat, which can cause a sore throat and cough.

Cold is caused by about 200 different viruses, among which viruses such as rhinovirus and coronavirus are the most common virus found around.  These viruses are contagious and can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes, through hand to hand shake, and also by sharing contaminated objects, such as utensils, towels, toys or telephones.  If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after such contact or exposure, you're likely to catch a cold.

Symptoms –

People sometimes confuse cold with flu.  Though their symptoms are more or less common, flu is worse than common cold and its symptoms are more intense.  The symptoms of a cold develop slowly, while on the hand, the symptoms for flu may appear more quickly and suddenly. 
Some of the common symptoms of a cold are:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Weakened senses of taste and smell
  • Scratchy and sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Body aches

Though cold generally do not result in serious health problems, it may take about 10 days for the cold symptoms to finally go away.

Prevention –

Since cold is caused by viruses, consuming antibiotics may not help in cold.  Instead, it will only develop resistance towards the antibiotics, which is not beneficial for your health and can harm you in long terms.
There is no specific antiviral treatment against the viruses which cause colds, but following these simple yet effective tips will help you (and others) prevent the common cold altogether.

Protect Yourself –
Viruses that cause colds can spread from infected people to others through the air and close personal contact.  This can happen when you shake hands with someone who has a cold, or touch something that has viruses on it, and then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose.  Avoiding cold or not, washing hands with soap and water is a healthy practice any way.  This five-step system provided by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention will ensure you a proper hand wash.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold is desirable).  Turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands with the soap by rubbing them together.  Be sure you do not miss the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails (that is where most germs are).
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.  More is okay, less is not.  At least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands completely under clean, running water.
  5. Wipe your hands dry using a clean towel or air dry them. Viruses that cause colds can enter your body through eyes, nose or mouth.  Avoid touching them with unwashed hands.
    Maintain a healthy distance from people who are sick.  You may end up getting cold yourself through close contacts with them if you are not careful.

Protect Others –
If you have a cold, follow these tips to avoid spreading it to others:

  • Though missing school or work is not necessary, but if you are suffering from cold, it is advisable that you stay at home until you feel well.
  • Avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.
  • Move away from people before coughing or sneezing.  Good etiquettes never hurt anybody.
  • Wash your hands clean after you handle soiled tissues or touch your nose and throat discharges.
  • Put up a second hand towel in the bathroom for healthy people to use.
  • Cold viruses are highly contagious.  They may spread rapidly on to other bodies.  Cover your mouth and nose with a clean handkerchief or your upper shirt sleeve, completely covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.  Do not use your hands as you’ll have to wash them over and over again.
  • Several viruses live for several days on surfaces (for example telephones, door handles, computer keyboards, etc.).  Wipe down all frequently touched surfaces with disinfectant using a clean cloth.

Other Risk Factors –
These factors can increase your chances of getting a cold :

  • Age - Children younger than 6 years are at a greater risk of colds, especially if they spend time in child-care settings.  One study found out that children who had frequent colds when aged 2 or 3 years were twice as likely to experience frequent colds at year 6 compared with children who had infrequent colds at 2 or 3 years.
  • Weakened immune system - Having a chronic illness or otherwise weakened immune system increases your risk.
  • Time of year - Both children and adults are more susceptible to colds in fall and winter, although you can get a cold any time of the year.
  • Smoking - You're more likely to catch a cold and to have more severe colds if you smoke.
  • Exposure - Social exposure is another reason for a greater risk.  If you're around many people, such as at school or on an airplane, you're likely to be exposed to viruses that cause colds.

Remedies –

Though there is no cure for common cold, there are several remedies that can be followed that can help you when you’re suffering from cold and also prevent them altogether.

1)  Consume Garlic –
Garlic contains compounds called allicin that are known to fight against viruses causing cold
A research, published in Advances in Therapy in 2011, was conducted among 146 volunteers, where in they were given placebo (a substance or treatment with no active therapeutic effect; given to a person in order to deceive the recipient into thinking that it is an active treatment) and allicin-containing garlic tablet: one capsule daily, over a 12-week period i.e., between November and February. 

They used a five-point scale to assess their health and recorded any common cold infections and symptoms in a diary.  It was found that the garlic tablet group had significantly fewer colds than the placebo group.  The placebo group recorded significantly more days challenged virally (366 vs 111) and a significantly longer duration of symptoms. 

Furthermore, volunteers in the active group were less likely to get a cold and also recovered faster than the other group, if infected.  Also, volunteers taking placebo were much more likely to get more than one cold over the treatment period.

How to –

  • Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic and add it to 1 teaspoon of honey.  Consume it daily until the symptoms settle down.
  • Eating raw garlic is way more effective, but it is not for the faint hearted.  But if you can, peel 1 clove of garlic and chew it as is.

2)  Consume Ginger –
Ginger can be helpful when fighting cold .  Due to its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, it is considered to boost up your immune system and is highly beneficial.

How to –

  • Mix 1-inch piece of minced ginger to your hot tea and savor it 2-3 times a day for more effectiveness.  This will also sooth your sore throat, and might ease congestion by increasing mucus flow.
  • Mince a 1-inch piece of ginger, and mix it with 1 teaspoon of raw honey.  Consume it daily.

3)  Consume Chicken Soup –
Hot chicken soup is beneficial for your cold in many ways.  Firstly, it is hot.  The steaming hot soup clears congestion in the nose and acts as a mucus stimulant.  Secondly, it provides the body with necessary hydration to flush out viral bugs and.  Thirdly, chicken contains cysteine, a natural amino acid, that helps in flu and respiratory infections to help thin out the mucus.
No reason to say No.

4)  Gargle with Saltwater –
Saltwater for the purpose of gargling is very efficient for sore throats.  A saltwater gargle can help you relive your sore and scratchy throat.
How to –

  • Take 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 glass of warm water, and use it to gargle.  Spit after gargling.  Do not consume.

5)  Consume Oranges and Orange Juice –
Vitamin C helps to boost immunity giving your immune system to fight against the viruses that cause a cold.  Food items rich in vitamin C such as orange and orange juice will help you recover the cold.  Plus, oranges are also rich in calcium, which is needed for the cells to absorb vitamin C.
Further, it also gives your body that extra fluid it need due to the dehydration caused by cold.

6)  Stay Hydrated –
When you catch a cold, your body needs more fluids because of all the runny noses, coughing, and sweating.  Staying hydrated by drinking water and other fluids is the best way to avoid dehydration which can make you feel more tired.  Plus, it also works well for you don’t like eating much when you’re sick.

The Institute of Medicine determined that the requirement of fluid (including water and everything else) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day, and accounting to about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day in women.   
Also, avoid alcohol, coffee and caffeinated sodas, which can worsen the situation.

7)  Take Rest –
Your best bet for when you’re suffering from cold is taking proper and adequate rest.  With the nose all running and throat all coughing, your body becomes tired and feel fatigued to carry out even the daily tasks.  Taking rest ensures that you sustain the energy and helps heal the body effectively.

Further, to ensure extra care, see a healthcare professional if:

  • the symptoms last 10 days or more without improvement,
  • the symptoms are severe or unusual.

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