According to the National Institutes of Health, Americans come down with more than 1 billion colds a year. Young children get more colds than adults because of their close contact with other children and because they are being exposed to viruses for the first time. Germs also spread more in colder months because people stay indoors and are in closer quarters with each other.
A cold is a contagious upper respiratory infection that is caused by a virus. More than 200 different viruses can cause colds.
Colds are spread from one person to another through direct contact or by inhaling droplets of fluid that contain a cold virus. Cold viruses must reach the mucous membrane, the moist lining of the nostrils, eyes, or mouth, in order for a person to become infected.
Someone who has a cold probably has particles of a cold virus on them. Many surfaces may also have particles of a cold virus on them. If you touch an infected person or surface and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you are more likely to catch a cold.
These symptoms usually occur two to three days after infection and will usually end in seven to 10 days.
There is no cure for a cold, but getting enough rest is the best way to make a quick recovery. Talk with your doctor before taking any medication or giving medication to your child.
Over-the-counter cold medications may relieve the symptoms of a cold. However, the benefits of these medications are minimal. Some of these medications include the following:
Drinking plenty of fluids will keep the nose and throat moist and will loosen mucous. Stay away from alcohol and caffeine because they have a drying effect.
Antibiotics should not be used to treat a cold. Antibiotics are effective against bacteria only. They will not work on colds (which are caused by viruses), may have adverse effects, and may cause future infections to be worse and last longer.
Many people take supplements and herbal remedies, such as zinc, Vitamin C, and echinacea to treat and prevent colds. These remedies have been studied and their effectiveness has not been verified. They also may have unwelcome adverse effects such as diarrhea. Tell your doctor if you are taking supplements and herbal remedies.
Contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
You may also have a bacterial infection, which can be diagnosed and treated by your doctor. Children with colds should be watched closely, and a doctor should be contacted if children have a high fever, are wheezing, are not eating, are sleepier than usual, cry a lot, or have ear or stomach pain.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/07/2014