Introduction to the Common Cold

The common cold is an extremely prevalent and contagious respiratory illness, caused by a variety of viruses. In most cases, the symptoms are mild and similar to those of the flu, but the common cold does not usually require medical care.

What Are the Symptoms of the Common Cold?

The most common symptom of the common cold is a sore throat, usually accompanied by a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. Other symptoms can include watery eyes, mild headache, hoarseness, and a low-grade fever of 100°F (37.8°C) or less. Most people recover from a cold within 7–10 days.

Common Cold Treatment and Prevention

Most of the time, treatment for a common cold consists of rest, over-the-counter medications, and plenty of fluids. If you have a fever, pain, or other severe symptoms, see a healthcare provider.

To help prevent the spread of cold viruses:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Sneeze and cough into a tissue or your elbow.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched often.
  • Stay home when you are sick.

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, a cold will go away on its own without medical care. However, if your symptoms are severe or if your cold does not improve after 10 days, it is important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. The doctor can help determine whether your symptoms are related to a cold, allergies, or another condition.