The common cold is named common, because it is the most frequently occurring infection across the United States and occurs among all age groups. Children may get up to 10 colds per year and adults average between 2-4. The cold is actually a virus that is contagious and is not caught, as formerly thought, by getting a chill.

What is the cold?

There are around 200 viruses that cause a cold. These viruses are contagious and cause an infection in the upper respiratory tract, specifically the nose, throat and lungs.


Because the cold virus is contagious, you catch it from another person. This may happen from touching a contaminated surface (usually one that is commonly touched) and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. It is also possible to catch a cold by coming into contact with germs from another person in other ways, for example from secretions sneezed into the air. While you must come into contact with a cold virus to catch the cold, there are factors that make the likelihood of catching it more likely. Some of these factors include not getting enough sleep, emotional stress, allergies involving nose and throat symptoms, and the middle phase of a menstrual cycle.


Symptoms will begin one to three days after coming into contact with the cold virus. It starts with a burning feeling in the throat or nose. This is followed by sneezing, a runny nose, and feeling unwell. As the cold progresses the nose goes from runny, to stuffy; and there is thicker, darker mucus. A mild cough may also occur. Usually there is no fever with a cold, if a fever does occur, it is possible that you have the flu, a different infection. In the first three days that you have symptoms, you are contagious; please stay home and get rest, do not pass the cold to others. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor if:

  • You are unable to swallow
  • Your throat hurts and your temperature is 101 degrees F or higher
  • You have a sore throat for more than five days
  • You have an earache
  • You have a stiff neck
  • You become sensitive to bright lights
  • You are pregnant or nursing
  • Your newborn or infant has cold symptoms
  • Your cold symptoms worsen after the third day

If you're not sure whether you're dealing with a cold or a case of influenza, please visit our Flu page.


There is no cure for the cold. The goal of treatment is to help you to feel better and to fight the virus. The best thing to do is to get lots of rest and drink lots of clear fluids. Also, eat a healthy, well balanced diet and take your vitamins to supplement any of the nutrients that you need and are not getting. During your cold, avoid dairy products which can make mucus thicker.

If you have a slight fever, it is best to take Tylenol not asprin. For a sore throat, gargle with salt water as often as you would like. Think twice about over-the-counter medication unless prescribed by a doctor; it usually overmedicates and makes you feel more tired. Other problems related to a cold can sometimes pose more of a risk when treated with over-the-counter medication, so please consult a doctor first.