The “common cold” is actually caused by any one of more than 200 types of viruses, such as rhinovirus. Cold symptoms vary by virus but commonly include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing, a low-grade fever, headaches and muscle aches. While most colds do not result in serious illness, they are highly contagious. This is why adults and children can suffer from a cold several times each year.
Cold symptoms usually develop within 2 to 3 days of exposure to the virus. However, a person may not know when he has been exposed to a cold virus because individuals may remain contagious after their symptoms disappear. Also, viruses that cause colds may exist on eating utensils and other surfaces. Symptoms usually begin with a runny nose, as the body's defense mechanisms produce mucus to wash away germs from the nasal passages and sinuses.
Exposure and Transmission
Cold viruses enter the body through the mouth and nose. The virus may be spread by droplets traveling through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks, according to Mayo Clinic.com. The virus may also be spread by hand-to-hand contact or sharing objects with an infected person who has coughed or sneezed onto her hand. The virus enters the body when a person touches his eyes, nose or mouth with the infected hand.
Rhinoviruses can live for 3 hours or longer as droplets or on surfaces. Virus particles can also travel up to 12 feet through the air when propelled by uncovered coughs or sneezes, according to TeensHealth. Infected individuals are most contagious in the first 3 to 4 days after cold symptoms appear, but they may remain contagious for as long as 3 weeks.
Prevention and Treatment
Transmission of virus particles can be reduced through regular hand washing, the frequent cleaning of shared objects, covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and avoiding close contact with infected individuals when possible. There is no cure for the common cold, and most colds go away within 1 to 2 weeks with no treatment. Your doctor may recommend natural remedies, like getting plenty of rest and staying well hydrated, or medications, such as antihistamines, cough medicines or over-the-counter pain relievers for symptom relief.