OverviewKey FactsSymptomsCausesRisk factorsDiagnosisPreventionSpecialist to visitTreatmentHome-careComplicationsAlternatives therapiesFAQsReferences
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Common cold

Common cold

Also known as Cold and Upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)


Common cold is one of the most common ailments that every one of us might have had at some point in our lives. Although mostly caused by viruses, cold can also be triggered due to changes in weather or an underlying respiratory infection. It can spread by close contact with infected people or touching contaminated objects. 

Sneezing, sore throat, feeling of being unwell, and nasal discharge are the most common symptoms associated with a cold. To diagnose a cold, assessing the physical symptoms is usually sufficient. In most cases, there is no need for any laboratory test. 

Treatment of cold is mainly based on relieving the symptoms. Home care measures like steam inhalation, staying hydrated, gargling, use of nasal spray and taking adequate rest are effective in speedy recovery from the cold.

Key Facts

Usually seen in
  • All age groups 
Gender affected
  • Both men and women
Body part(s) involved
  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Sinuses
Mimicking Conditions
Specialists to consult
  • General physician
  • ENT specialist
  • Pulmonologist
  • Infectious disease specialist 
  • Allergist

Symptoms Of Common Cold

The cold or common cold, as the name suggests, is so common that according to studies, an average adult gets 4-6 colds per year, whereas children get 6-8 colds in a year.

A cold is most commonly characterised by the following symptoms:

  • Stuffy nose

  • Sore throat

  • Sneezing

  • Cough (productive or dry)

  • Watery eyes

  • Malaise or a general feeling of being unwell

  • Slight body aches or a mild headache

  • Nasal discharge that is more than usual

Note: Discharge usually starts out clear and becomes thicker and yellow or green as the cold progresses.

Occasionally, the common cold can also present with the following symptoms: 

  • Postnasal drip or drainage at the back of throat

  • Earache

  • Sinus pressure

  • Loss of appetite

  • Loss of smell or taste

  • Oversensitivity to the ambient temperature 

  • Chills (feeling cold with or without fever)

  • Low-grade fever (below 102°F)

  • Chest discomfort

  • Difficulty in breathing deeply

Causes Of Common Cold

The most common causes of the common cold are viruses, especially RNA viruses. Some of the common viruses that cause cold are:

  • Rhinovirus

  • Coronavirus

  • Influenza virus

  • Parainfluenza virus

  • Adenovirus

  • Coxsackievirus  

  • Human bocavirus (HBoV)

Some common colds may also be caused by bacteria, but it is quite rare. Rhinoviruses are known to be the most common causative agents of cold in children and adults.

Is it common cold or COVID-19?
COVID-19 shares many symptoms with the common cold. Both are caused by respiratory viruses and spread from person to person through droplets that come out of the nose and mouth. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two just based on symptoms, especially in mild to moderate cases. Some signs that could indicate that the illness is COVID-19 rather than a cold include fever or chills, persistent dry cough and shortness of breath. However, a fever can also indicate flu, pneumonia, or any other infection. Hence, it is best to undergo testing if COVID-19 is a possibility. Click here to learn more about COVID-19.

Risk Factors For Common Cold

Following factors can increase your risk of catching a cold.

  • Infants, toddlers and young children are at a higher risk of catching a cold

  • Although one can get a cold anytime of the year, it is more prevalent in winters

  • Close contact with the infected person

  • Exposure at closed overcrowded places like playgroups, schools, offices or aeroplanes

  • Low humidity or dry weather which makes the nasal passages drier and more susceptible to an infection

  • Smoking or secondhand smoke

  • Poor hand hygiene

  • Exposure to contaminated objects

  • Allergies

  • Chronic respiratory illness

  • Low immunity

  • Lack of sleep

  • Stress

Diagnosis Of Common Cold

The diagnosis of a cold is done on the basis of your medical history and physical examination. Usually, laboratory tests in case of a cold are of no or very little significance. However, there are some rapid tests suggested for the detection of influenza, parainfluenza, and adenovirus antigens in nasal secretions. Rhinovirus, influenza viruses, and adenoviruses are also detected by taking a throat swab.

Common cold is not the same as flu
Common cold shares many symptoms with a potentially more serious condition called “flu” (influenza). Recognizing when your illness is mild like a cold or when it’s more serious like the flu is crucial. Here are 2 quick tips that will help you differentiate your cold from the flu.

Prevention Of Common Cold

You cannot always prevent a cold. However, by following some simple preventive tips, you can avoid catching a cold from other people.

1. Do not come in close contact with people who have a cold, particularly during the initial days of catching a cold as they are highly infectious around this time and may spread the infection.

2. Wash your hands frequently in a day, especially after coming in close contact with someone who has a cold or after touching an object which is contaminated. It is also important to wash your hands before and after meals.

3. Do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth to avoid infecting yourself with the cold virus as your hands are the easiest way viruses and other infected particles enter your body.

4. Do not use personal belongings of an infected individual such as towels and handkerchiefs to avoid contracting the common cold.

5. Sometimes, a dry environment can also trigger a cold; therefore, keep a check on the humidity of your environment to prevent drying of sinuses.

6. If you have a cold, it is advised to cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief or a tissue while coughing or sneezing.

7. Discard the used tissue in a closed lid bin and wash hands. It is also advised to stay away from vulnerable people suffering from asthma or other chronic lung diseases.

Did you know?
Colds are highly contagious. They most often spread when droplets of fluid that contain a cold virus are transferred by touch. These droplets may also be inhaled. Here's more on how to prevent the common cold.
Did you know?

Specialist To Visit

Usually, the cold gets better on its own without any treatment in 7 to 10 days. However, you can visit a doctor if your cold tends to get worse with time or if you have a high fever, chest pain, shortness of breath or trouble breathing. Also, let your doctor know if your symptoms worsen with each passing day. You can consult the following specialists:

  • General physician

  • ENT specialist

  • Pulmonologist

  • Infectious disease specialist 

  • Allergist 

Consulting a doctor becomes even more important for people who are suffering from a chronic disease of the airways such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Get medical help, if you notice any of the following symptoms like:

  • High fever

  • Ear pain

  • Sinus related headaches

  • Severe symptoms of a cold that are unusual

  • Cough that worsens while other cold symptoms improve

  • A flare-up of any chronic lung problem such as COPD or asthma

Consult India’s best doctors online from a single click.

Treatment Of Common Cold

There is no definitive treatment available against colds caused due to the invasion of viruses. For such cases, medications are considered helpful but they can only provide relief from the symptoms. Here are some common treatment options suggested by professionals in case of cold.

1. Antihistamines and decongestants

If you have a cold, antihistamines and decongestants can give you symptomatic relief with reduced nasal discharge, nose-blowing, sneezing, duration, and severity of symptoms. Some of the common examples include:

2. Expectorants & antitussives

If your cold is accompanied by cough, you may need either antitussive or an expectorant depending upon the type of cough you have. Some of the common examples are: 

3. Pain relief medications

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help ease symptoms like body aches, inflammation, and fever. Examples include:

Did you know?
Antibiotics are generally of no use in treating common cold. They may be of significance only when your cold is followed by a secondary bacterial infection such as sinus infection. Antibiotics, however, should only be taken after consulting your doctor to avoid antibiotic resistance in the future. 
Did you know?

Home Care For Common Cold

Over-the-counter medications can provide temporary relief of symptoms and should be used as soon as you feel a cold coming on.

1. Increase your intake of fluids

If you have a cold, then drinking plenty of fluids will help in thinning of the mucus and its easy drainage from the nose. It is advised to include plenty of liquids, especially warm drinks, to soothe your sore throat and manage your cold symptoms better.

2. Take proper rest
Adequate sleep is vital to healing. Sometimes, over exhaustion and fatigue could aggravate the cold symptoms. Sleep can help in producing natural fighter cells in the body that fight infections. 

3. Use nasal saline solution or spray
You can use non-medicated nasal saline sprays or solutions to keep your nasal passages moist and free of any thickened mucus and get rid of blocked nasal passages. 

4. Keep the ambient air humid
You can use a humidifier to keep your ambient air moist to prevent drying of nasal passages. You can also inhale steam to get relief from the cold symptoms. 

5. Use a neti pot
A neti pot is a container that helps in flushing out the mucus. You can use it by bending your head towards your side over the sink and keep the spout of the neti pot in your upper nostril. After this pour water (salt water solution) into your upper nostril and let the water flow or drain down towards the lower nose. 

6. Sleep in elevated position
The sleeping position which is at a slightly elevated slope helps in better drainage of your mucus. You can keep pillows under your head to help fluids flow in your sinuses and prevent congestion. 

7. Gargle
Garging with salt water or povidone-iodine can help in reducing the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections. 

8. Eat foods that support your immune system
Foods that are rich in Vitamin C and zinc helps you in recovering from the cold. Foods that are rich in Vitamin C such as oranges, lemon, bell peppers and strawberries can help you get relief from the symptoms of a cold. 

9. Pay extra attention to hygiene
Keeping good hygiene will not only help in preventing cold but also helps in preventing the cold from spreading to other person. Make sure you keep your hands clean at all times and disinfect the frequently touched items/surfaces.

Fight the viral cold better with these effective and easy natural remedies.

Complications Of Common Cold

Colds usually get better in a few days to weeks, with or without medication. However, a cold virus can make way for several other infections in the body such as:

  • Acute ear infection (otitis media)

  • Acute sinusitis

  • Acute bronchitis

  • Strep throat

  • Pneumonia

  • Croup or bronchiolitis in children

If you are already suffering from any respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema, cold may worsen the symptoms of these diseases. 

Did you know?
If your cold refuse to go away, it could be a sign of sinusitis. Sinus infection or sinusitis occurs when the air-filled spaces inside your nose and head (called sinuses) get inflamed or swollen. Both viruses or bacteria can cause this inflammation. Here's more about sinusitis.
Did you know?

Alternative Therapies Of Common Cold

Here are some of the home remedies that can help you recover faster from a cold.

1. Lemon (Nimbu): Lemons are amongst the most famous remedies for cold and fever as they are rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C. They increase the body’s resistance to cold and cough and reduce the duration of illness.

You can take lemon juice in warm water with a tablespoon of honey. You can take this solution twice or thrice a day. 

2. Ginger (Adrak): It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. To cure a cold, you can cut a small piece of ginger and boil it in water. Strain this mixture and consume this decoction twice or thrice a day. You can also chew raw ginger or consume it in the form of supplements.

3. Garlic (Lehsun): Garlic is an excellent source of anti-inflammatory agents. It has antispasmodic and antiseptic action as well.

You can take 3-4 cloves of garlic and boil it in water and consume it once a day.You can also take 3-4 drops of garlic oil diluted in water and take it twice or thrice a day.

4. Turmeric (Haldi): Turmeric is also an excellent remedy for colds. You can mix half a teaspoon of turmeric in warm milk and consume it once a day. If you are suffering from a runny nose, you can take smoke from the burning turmeric for quick relief.

5.  gourd (Karela): Roots of bitter gourd are effective in treating a cold. You can mix a paste of bitter gourd, tulsi leaves, and equal parts honey and take it once daily at night for a month.

6. Lady finger (Bhindi): Lady finger or okra is rich in mucilage and helps in treating throat allergies, swelling, and pain associated with cold. To relieve the common cold, you can add a few cut lady fingers into boiling water and consume this decoction once daily.

7. Vitamin C: Regular intake of Vitamin C is helpful in preventing colds. If you already have a cold then taking Vitamin C can help you relieve the symptoms and shorten the duration of the cold. You can take 1-2 tablets of Vitamin C daily, or as prescribed by your doctor. 

Frequently Asked Questions


  1. Worrall Graham. Common cold.Can Fam Physician. 2011 Nov; 57(11): 1289–1290. External Link
  2. Wang Jae Lee. Common Cold and Flu.Vitamin C in Human Health and Disease. 2019 Aug 7 : 89–100.External Link
  3. Nielsen H Herløv , Permin H .Common cold--risk factors, transmission and treatment.Ugeskr Laeger. 2001 Oct 8;163(41):5643-6.External Link
  4. Pappas. E Diane.The Common Cold.Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 2018 : 199–202.e1.External Link
  5. Facts about the common cold. American lung association.[Internet] [accessed on 9th april, 2021]External Link
  6. H.K. Bakhru. Indian Spices & Condiments as Natural Healers. Jaico Publishing House, 2001. p53-54External Link
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