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Common Cold

Caused by viruses. Signs and symptoms include fever, coughing, sneezing, and sore throat.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Common Colds

Common colds, or simply "colds," are usually quite harmless and go away again on their own. Although they are different to the flu, having the symptoms of a cold - like a cough, sore throat and runny nose - can be bothersome. A severe cold can make you feel weak and ill too. Most colds are caused by viruses.

Antibiotics are not effective against colds because they only fight bacteria. But there are other things you can do about colds and the related symptoms.

Colds usually go away after about a week, but some symptoms may last longer. Although a sore throat or a stuffy nose may be gone after just a few days, it can sometimes take up to three weeks for a cough to disappear completely... Read more about Common Cold

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Chinese medicinal herbs to treat the common cold

The common cold is the most widespread acute respiratory tract illness affecting all age groups. Many Chinese herbal medicines are used to treat this illness in China. Although we included 17 trials, involving 3212 patients, in this review, the risk of bias was so high that the evidence did not support using any Chinese herbal preparation(s) for the common cold. Well‐designed clinical trials are required.

Heated, humidified air for the common cold

The common cold is the most common infection in humans. Considered trivial, it does not cause complications but leads to significant work absenteeism due to discomfort caused by the symptoms.The common cold is diagnosed according to the symptoms and treatments are mainly symptomatic. New information, especially regarding the effects of cytokines in human beings, now helps to explain some of the symptoms of colds and influenza, such as fever, loss of appetite, malaise, chilliness, headache, and muscle aches and pains. Many of these signs and symptoms are common and are attributed to congestion arising from swelling of the membranes and thickened mucus inside the nose.

A spray containing ipratropium bromide administered into the nose to treat common cold symptoms

The common cold is caused by a range of viruses and bacteria. It is the most common illness affecting humans. It causes a runny and stuffy nose, sore throat and sneezing. There is no proven cure for the cold and only symptom relief is available. The aim of this review was to investigate the use of a nasal spray containing ipratropium bromide (IB), which may improve cold symptoms. This review has found that IB may improve the runny nose but has no effect on nasal stuffiness.

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Summaries for consumers

Chinese medicinal herbs to treat the common cold

The common cold is the most widespread acute respiratory tract illness affecting all age groups. Many Chinese herbal medicines are used to treat this illness in China. Although we included 17 trials, involving 3212 patients, in this review, the risk of bias was so high that the evidence did not support using any Chinese herbal preparation(s) for the common cold. Well‐designed clinical trials are required.

Heated, humidified air for the common cold

The common cold is the most common infection in humans. Considered trivial, it does not cause complications but leads to significant work absenteeism due to discomfort caused by the symptoms.The common cold is diagnosed according to the symptoms and treatments are mainly symptomatic. New information, especially regarding the effects of cytokines in human beings, now helps to explain some of the symptoms of colds and influenza, such as fever, loss of appetite, malaise, chilliness, headache, and muscle aches and pains. Many of these signs and symptoms are common and are attributed to congestion arising from swelling of the membranes and thickened mucus inside the nose.

A spray containing ipratropium bromide administered into the nose to treat common cold symptoms

The common cold is caused by a range of viruses and bacteria. It is the most common illness affecting humans. It causes a runny and stuffy nose, sore throat and sneezing. There is no proven cure for the cold and only symptom relief is available. The aim of this review was to investigate the use of a nasal spray containing ipratropium bromide (IB), which may improve cold symptoms. This review has found that IB may improve the runny nose but has no effect on nasal stuffiness.

See all (186)

Terms to know

Bacteria
A large group of single-cell microorganisms. Some cause infections and disease in animals and humans. The singular of bacteria is bacterium.
Infection
The invasion and growth of germs in the body. The germs may be bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi, or other microorganisms.
Nasopharynx
The upper part of the throat behind the nose. An opening on each side of the nasopharynx leads into the ear.
Respiratory System
The organs that are involved in breathing. These include the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. Also called respiratory tract.
Viruses
In medicine, a very simple microorganism that infects cells and may cause disease. Because viruses can multiply only inside infected cells, they are not considered to be alive.

More about Common Cold

Photo of a young adult

Also called: Acute nasopharyngitis

See Also: Influenza, Rhinosinusitis

Other terms to know: See all 5
Bacteria, Infection, Nasopharynx

Related articles:
Protecting Yourself Against Respiratory Infections
Antibiotics and the Cold

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