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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.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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.
- 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.
Exposure and Transmission
Herpangina in Adults
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 2. 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.
- Cold viruses enter the body through the mouth and nose.
- 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
How Long Is Stomach Flu Contagious?
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.
Herpangina in Adults
How Long Is Stomach Flu Contagious?
Dry, Itchy Throat and Runny Nose
Hand Sanitizers and Viruses
Summer Cold Symptoms
Causes of a High Fever and Runny Nose
Differences Between Cold Sores & Herpes
How to Disinfect Herpes or Shingles Virus
What Is the Difference Between Influenza A & B?
What Is the Rhino Flu?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Common Cold and Runny Nose
- Mayo Clinic.com: Common cold
- TeensHealth: Coping with Colds
- American Lung Association. (2019). Facts About The Common Cold.
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- Johnson C, Eccles R. Acute cooling of the feet and the onset of common cold symptoms. Fam Pract. 2005 Dec;22(6):608-13.
- Fashner J, Ericson K, Werner S. Treatment of the Common Cold in Children and Adults. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Jul 15;86(2):153-59.
- AlBalawi ZH, Othman SS, Alfaleh J. Intranasal ipratropium bromide for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 19;(6):CD008231. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008231.pub3
- FDA. (2018). Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids.
- Poolsup N, Suthisisang C, Prathanturarug S, Asawamekin A, Chanchaereon U. Andrographis paniculata in the symptomatic treatment of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2004 Feb;29(1):37-45.
- Lizogub VG, Riley DS, Heger M. Efficacy of a pelargonium sidoides preparation in patients with the common cold: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Explore (NY). 2007 Nov-Dec;3(6):573-84.
- Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CM Jr. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Dec;161(12):1140-6.
- Hemila H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;(1):CD000980. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4
- Karsch-Volk M, Barrett B, Kiefer D, Bauer R, Ardjomand-Woelkart K, Linde K. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Feb 20;(2):CD000530. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub3
- Sexton DJ, McClain MT. (2019). The common cold in adults: Treatment and prevention. Hirsch MS, Aronson MD, eds. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc.
Kelly Smith has been writing professionally since 2010. She writes for various websites, specializing in health and literature. Smith is a certified pharmacy technician with more than five years of professional experience. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in multimedia communications from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.