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Common Cold

Colds: Causes, Cures, and Coping

What is a cold?
How do you get a cold?
Can I prevent colds?
What are the symptoms of a cold?
How can I find out if I have a cold?
How should I treat a cold?

What is a cold?
A cold is an infection of the nose and throat. Most colds are caused by viruses and go away by themselves. Sometimes a cold can lead to a more serious infection of the lungs, like bronchitis or pneumonia. back to top

How do you get a cold?
Most colds are caused by viruses. Viruses get passed from person to person by:
  • coughing or sneezing
  • touching another person, because cold viruses can live on people's hands
  • touching objects, because viruses can live for a short time on surfaces like door handles and countertops back to top
Can I prevent colds?
Some people claim that certain vitamins and herbs (such as vitamin C or echinacea) can prevent colds. So far, no one has been able to show that these substances work to prevent colds.

The best way to prevent a cold is to avoid people who have colds. You should wash your hands whenever you might have come in contact with the cold virus. During the cold season, make a habit of keeping your hands away from your eyes and nose. back to top

What are the symptoms of a cold?
The symptoms of a cold include:
  • runny nose
  • stuffy nose
  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • sore throat back to top
How can I find out if I have a cold?
You can usually tell that you have a cold just by the symptoms. Most colds go away by themselves within a few days. So, in most cases, you don't need to see your health professional unless you have a high fever, a severe cough or wheeze, or a sore throat without the other symptoms of a cold. If you have those kinds of symptoms, you may have something more serious than a simple cold. If your symptoms are very severe or you don't feel better in a few days, talk to your health professional. back to top

How should I treat a cold?
You don't need to treat a cold; it will go away by itself in a few days. But you can treat your symptoms to make yourself more comfortable. You can get many nonprescription cold medications at the drugstore or supermarket. Most of these medicines work by drying up your nasal passages, making it easier for you to breathe through your nose. These medicines make you feel more comfortable temporarily, but they won't make the cold go away. It just has to go away on its own.

Since colds are caused by viruses, they can't be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are only helpful if you have a bacterial infection like bronchitis or pneumonia. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/28/2001
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