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Nonspecific Upper Respiratory Tract Infection: Physician Information Sheet (Adults)

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Principles of appropriate antibiotic use apply to the diagnosis and treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infection (common cold) in otherwise healthy adults.

Symptoms may last up to 10-14 days.


  • The common cold is caused by viral pathogens, such as rhinovirus, parainfluenza, adenovirus, RSV, and influenza.
  • Bacterial rhinosinusitis complicates only about 2% of cases.


  • Although sore throat, nasal symptoms, and cough may be present, there is no prominent symptom or sign.
  • Symptoms may last up to 14 days with an average of 7 to 11 days (J Clin Microbiol 1997;35:2864; JAMA 1967;202:158).
  • Purulent nasal secretions do not predict bacterial sinusitis unless accompanied by other signs and symptoms of bacterial infection.


  • Studies have found the common cold resolves without antibiotic treatment.
  • Treatment with an antibiotic does not shorten the duration of illness or prevent bacterial rhinosinusitis.
  • Patients with purulent green or yellow secretions do not benefit from antibiotic treatment.
  • Over-the-counter cough suppressants have limited efficacy for relief of cough due to upper respiratory infection (Chest 2006; 129:95S-103S).
  • Acute cough associated with the common cold may be relieved by first-generation antihistamines and decongestants (Chest 2006;129:95S-103S).

Duration of Cold Syptoms
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