The cold is a mild viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, in particular of the nose and throat, caused by over 200 different viruses of which the most common are rhinoviruses, influenza and parainfluenza viruses, adenoviruses, respiratory syncytial virus and coronaviruses . The term cold it might suggest that it is a consequence of exposure to cold, but the role of body cooling in the onset of the disease is controversial. It is certainly true that most of the viruses that cause the common cold are seasonal and circulate more frequently during the fall / winter. It is equally true that the transmission of these viruses is very frequent indoors, especially in classrooms. there may be a relationship with the increased sensitivity of the respiratory system due to the low humidity of the air. In fact, it facilitates the spread of the virus through the droplets of saliva, emitted by patients with breathing, sneezing or coughing, which are dispersed further away and remain suspended in the air for longer.

It is a very common, non-serious infection that usually resolves within 5-10 days. The symptoms (symptoms) it causes, common for all viruses that can cause colds, include sneezing, copious mucus production, nose stuffy or runny (nasal congestion), phlegm and sore throat, cough, feeling tired More serious symptoms may also occur, including a high temperature (fever), headache and body aches, although they are more typical of "influence.

There is no specific cure for colds, but rest, drinking plenty of fluids, eating healthy and possibly anti-inflammatory therapy are important to relieve the discomfort of the ailments.


Disorders (symptoms) caused by colds usually appear within days of infection and include: sore throat, sneezing, copious mucus production, runny or stuffy nose (nasal congestion and runny nose), cough, hoarse voice, feeling sick and tired. Less commonly, more important disorders may also occur, including a high temperature (fever) usually between 37-39 ° C, headache and muscle aches, decreased or loss of smell (hyposmia / anosmia) and taste (hypogeusia / ageusia), or the decrease in the ability to taste some flavors, slight irritation to the eyes, even if they are more typical of the flu. A feeling of pressure in the ears and earache may also be present. These disorders, however, can also be a sign of a "middle ear infection".

This set of disorders (symptom picture) is most significant in the first two or three days. In adults and older children, it usually lasts from a week to 10 days; the cough may persist for two to three weeks. Colds tend to last longer in young children under five, in whom the ailments can last for up to 14 days.

Because the ailments can be very similar, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the common cold from something potentially more serious like the flu. The main differences are that the flu comes on abruptly, causes headaches, fever and body aches. , such as to hinder normal activities. A cold, on the other hand, comes gradually, mainly affects the nose and throat, is generally mild, in fact, it does not prevent you from carrying out daily activities and going to work.

Complications of the cold

The cold usually clears up without causing further problems. However, sometimes the infection can spread to the chest, ears, or sinuses and sinuses and cause:

  • sinusitis (Video), infection of the small cavities found in the cheekbones and forehead. It develops in a maximum of one in every 50 cases. Symptoms of sinusitis are: pain around the nose, eyes and forehead, as well as stuffy and runny nose, high fever above 38 ° C in most cases resolves without the need for treatment
  • middle ear infection (otitis media), common in children under five years of age. Disorders (symptoms) include: severe earache, high fever above 38 ° C, flu-like symptoms, hearing loss. Most middle ear infections heal without treatment within a few days. Treatment is usually only needed if the child has repeated infections.
  • chest infection, symptoms of a chest infection, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, include: persistent cough, phlegm and shortness of breath. These infections usually resolve within a few weeks without specific treatment, but if the cough is severe, the high fever persists, a feeling of disorientation and confusion appears, the pain in the chest is very severe, the cough is stained with blood, the last longer than three weeks, it could be a bacterial infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics

When to contact your family doctor

Colds are generally mild and short-lived, so there is generally no need to see a doctor. Only rest at home and the use of painkillers and other remedies to relieve ailments (symptoms) are indicated until such time as you you start to feel better.

However, it is necessary to consult your doctor if: the symptoms persist for more than three weeks; they suddenly get worse; breathing difficulties arise; complications develop, such as chest pain or coughing up blood. In addition, it may be appropriate to see a doctor for young children or elderly people, especially if they have underlying chronic conditions.


Many types of viruses can cause colds, the most common being the rhinovirus. Other viruses involved can be: coronaviruses, influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial viruses, adenoviruses, respiratory enteroviruses, metapneumoviruses.

Whatever it is, however, it is mainly transmitted through the droplets of saliva emitted into the air by the sick person through coughing and sneezing, or even simply by talking. The cold viruses, therefore, enter the human body through the mouth, eyes or the nose. They are also transmitted by direct contact with contaminated surfaces, including the hands of people with a cold, or by sharing objects with them such as, for example, utensils, towels, toys, telephones. the nose or eyes is very likely to get infected.The risk of infection is particularly high in the first 2-3 days of illness, while it usually stops after 5-7 days.

Some factors can increase the risk of catching a cold:

  • age, children under the age of six are at greater risk, especially if they attend kindergarten (read the Hoax)
  • weakening of the immune systemhaving a chronic disease or even mild immune system deficiency increases the risk of infection
  • period of the year, it is more common to contract colds in cold seasons, in autumn and winter, although you can get sick at any time
  • smokeIf you smoke, you are more at risk of exposure, attending many people and crowded environments or communities such as school or public transport, you are much more likely to be exposed to the viruses that cause colds


The cold usually clears up in 5-10 days. Therefore it is possible to manage the symptoms by following some simple general rules, without consulting your doctor. It may be useful to drink plenty of fluids to replenish those lost with increased sweating and rhinorrhea; help to restore energy also through a healthy diet, low in fat, high in fiber, with fresh fruit and vegetables, without trying to eat, because with a cold, you can lose your appetite.

To help relieve symptoms, you can use some medications available in pharmacies without a prescription or remedies such as: pain relievers and antipyretics such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen which can reduce fever and also act as pain relievers; decongestants for a stuffy nose. These drugs are generally safe for older children and adults, but may not be suitable for infants, young children, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses, or taking certain other medications. It is therefore advisable to always read the package leaflet that accompanies the drug and follow the instructions for the recommended dosage.

Some people find relief from a sore throat and stuffy nose with salt water gargle and menthol candy. Nasal washes with saline solution (salt water) are very helpful in infants and young children.In contrast, antihistamines, cough syrups or antibiotics (effective only against bacteria while colds are caused by viruses) (read the Hoax), complementary treatments and alternative medicine, such as echinacea and medicinal herbs, are not usually treatments. recommended for colds as there is no evidence of their effectiveness, and they can cause unpleasant side effects.


To avoid getting sick and preventing the spread of colds, it is useful to follow some simple hygiene rules and avoid direct contact with those who have already been infected: wash your hands regularly (read the Bufala), especially before touching your nose or mouth and before handling food, sneezing and coughing covering your nose and mouth (or sneezing and coughing into your elbow), use disposable handkerchiefs and throw them away as soon as they are used, wash your hands, keep surfaces clean, use your own dishes (cup, plates , cutlery and kitchen utensils), do not share towels or toys with someone who has a cold.

As for the use of supplements of vitamin C, zinc, other mineral salts and antioxidants, in order to reduce the risk of colds, there is currently insufficient evidence to support their effectiveness.


Heymann D.L. Common cold. In: Handbook for the control of communicable diseases. 18th ed. Dea Roma, 2004

Lewis-Rogers N, Seger J, Adler FR. Human rhinovirus diversity and evolution: how strange the change from major to minor. Journal of Virology. 201791: 1659-16

Van Cauwenberge PB, van Kempen MJ, Bachert C. The common cold [Summary]. Acta Otorhinolaryngoologica Belgica. 2000; 54: 397-401

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