Common Cold

This is a viral infection that causes a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing and coughing.

This is a viral infection that causes a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing and coughing.

The common cold is an upper respiratory infection that can be caused by over 200 different viruses. Rhinoviruses are the most common cause of the common cold.

  • You do not catch a cold by going outside with wet hair or not wearing warm clothes.
  • The common cold occurs more often in the winter, but it is not because of the cold weather itself. The increased risk is due to the dry air and spending more time indoors. The dry air dries out the nasal passages and spending more time indoors increases the exposure to higher concentrations of the virus.
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke and other airway irritants can increase your risk for catching a cold. This is because they damage the small hairs (cilia) that line the airways and help remove irritating particles, viruses and bacteria.
  • Allergies, bronchitis, strep throat and influenza (flu) can cause similar symptoms. Usually, people with the flu feel much sicker than people with a cold.

The viruses that cause the common cold can spread by coughing, sneezing or touching a surface or object. Others can “catch” the virus if they breathe in the infected droplets or touch the infected surface, and then touch their nose or mouth. The first symptoms of the common cold usually begin rapidly, typically one to three days after contact with the virus. They can include:

  • An irritated or sore throat
  • A runny nose (nasal discharge) that usually starts clear, but can develop a yellow greenish discoloration
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • A mild headache and muscles aches
  • A slight fever

The sore throat is usually brief. The runny nose and cough can last for one to two weeks.

If you have a cold, get plenty of rest and drink an adequate amount of fluids. You can also try running a cool mist humidifier to help keep your mucus membranes moist and ease a dry cough. (Make sure you follow the manufacturer's directions for cleaning the humidifier). Also, avoid cigarette smoke and other respiratory irritants. If your symptoms continue or get worse, you may have developed a bacterial infection on top of the virus (a secondary infection).

  • To decrease the spread of a virus, stay home if you have cold symptoms, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoid touching your face and wash your hands frequently!
  • Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. The overuse of antibiotics can result in bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. It can also expose you to unnecessary side effects.
  • If you have heart disease, high blood pressure or an enlarged prostate consult your healthcare provider before taking over-the-counter decongestants.

Some important things to remember when treating a child's cold symptoms:

  • Children and adolescents (under eighteen years) should not receive aspirin products because of the possibility of Reye syndrome.
  • You should not give decongestants to a child under the age of four.
  • Over-the-counter cough and cold products have not been shown to be effective in young children. Therefore, you should not give them to a child unless directed by the child's healthcare provider.
  • Always read and follow the instructions on the product label.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of a cold that are getting worse or not improving within seven to ten days. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms and how long you have had them.

  • Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations).
  • Make a list of your medications (including over-the-counter).
  • Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask why you should not use an over-the-counter medication.
  • If your health care provider prescribes a medication, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).

Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider.

  • What are some of the complications of a cold? Am I at high risk for complications?
  • What treatment, if any, are you recommending? What options are available?
  • If medication is recommended, how long will I need to take it? What are the possible side effects?
  • How long will it take my symptoms to improve?
  • What are my follow-up plans and what symptoms should I report before my next appointment?


Also known as:

Runny Nose
Nasal Drainage
Nasal Congestion
Common Cold
Cold helps consumers determine the average cost of common medical procedures in their location. By gathering and analyzing data from leading insurance providers across the US, patients can compare the estimated price of common medical procedures to determine their approximate out-of-pocket expenses. All rates are approximations and not guarantees based on data that is available to the consumer. There are currently 638 procedures available in our database. These results and the information contained within should in no way take the place of actual medical advice.

Do not avoid getting health care based on the information on this site. Not affiliated with any insurance provider, hospital, or medical professional. Prices are just estimates based on available data, and may vary based on plan, state, and provider. For informational purposes only.