Common Cold

[kom-uh n] [kohld]

Girl sneezing into albow

Most people get colds in the winter and spring, but it is possible to get a cold any time of the year. Symptoms usually include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches, and body aches. Most people recover within about 7-10 days. However, people with weakened immune systems, asthma, or conditions that affect the lungs and breathing passages may develop serious illness, such as pneumonia. Common colds are the main reason that children miss school and adults miss work. Each year in the United States, millions of people get the common cold. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more.

Quiz

Key Facts

  • Every year, adults have an average of 2–3 colds, and children have even more.
  • Many viruses can cause colds, but rhinoviruses are most common. Infections spread through the air and close personal contact.
  • There is no cure for a cold. To feel better, you should get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Symptoms of a cold usually include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches, and body aches.
  • To reduce your risk of getting a cold, wash hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.​

Media

Boy washing hands
Protect Yourself and Others

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Viruses that cause colds can survive on your hands, and regular handwashing can help protect you from getting sick.

Mother feeling daughter's forehead
How to Feel Better

There is no cure for a cold. To feel better, you should get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medicines may help ease symptoms but will not make your cold go away any faster. Always read the label and use medications as directed. Talk to your doctor before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines, since some medicines contain ingredients that are not recommended for children.

Boy having his temperature taken
When to See a Doctor

You should call your doctor if you or your child has one or more of these conditions: a temperature higher than 100.4°F, symptoms that last more than 10 days, or symptoms that are severe or unusual. If your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a fever, you should always call your doctor right away. Your doctor can determine if you or your child has a cold and can recommend therapy to help with symptoms.

Illustrator of ear, nose and throat
Get Smart

When you have a cold, mucus fills your nose, causing runny nose, congestion, and mucus to drip down your throat (post-nasal drip), which can cause a sore throat and cough. This mucus helps wash the germs from the nose and sinuses. After two or three days, mucus may change to a white, yellow, or green color. This does not necessarily mean antibiotics are needed.

Prevention Tips

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash them for at least 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Viruses that cause colds can stay on your hands, and regular handwashing can help protect you from getting sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Viruses that cause colds can enter your body this way and make you sick.
  • Stay away from people who are sick. Sick people can spread viruses that cause the common cold through close contact with others.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, including objects such as toys and doorknobs.

More Information

Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others

Page last reviewed: December 30, 2020