The common cold is a self-limited contagious illness that can be caused by a number of different types of viruses. More than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause the common cold. Because so many different viruses can cause a cold and because new cold viruses constantly develop, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. For this reason, colds are a frequent and recurring problem, and it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school.
Historically, the term 'a cold' described an illness that was not associated with a fever – hence the name.
The cold is called common for a reason, as on average children will get about eight colds every year.
Signs and symptoms
Colds are mild viral infection of the upper (above the lungs) respiratory tract. The symptoms of the common cold typically begin two to three days after acquiring the infection (incubation period). Symptoms and signs of the common cold vary depending on the virus responsible for the infection and may include the following
Course and duration
- Feeling unwell
- Decreased appetite
- Runny and blocked nose
- Mild sore throat
The symptoms of the common cold will typically last anywhere from 3 to 10 days, with most children improving in one week.
Spread of infection
The common cold is spread either by direct contact with infected secretions from contaminated surfaces or by inhaling the airborne virus after individuals sneeze or cough. Person-to-person transmission often occurs when an individual who has a cold blows or touches their nose and then touches someone or something else. A healthy child who then makes direct contact with these secretions can subsequently become infected, often after their contaminated hands make
contact with their own eyes or nose. A cold virus can live on objects such as pens, books, telephones, computer keyboards, and coffee cups for several hours and can thus be acquired from contact with these objects.
Children are infectious from the time they first show symptoms to
the end of the symptomatic period.
Most people recover well from the common cold, but sometimes complications can develop in children under five, with middle ear infection probably the most frequent complication. Sometimes children may go on to develop bronchitis and occasionally pneumonia, especially in children who are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke or who are otherwise predisposed to chest infections. If a child has asthma, cold may make his symptoms worse.
The common cold is a self-limited illness that will resolve spontaneously with time.
There's no treatment for colds as they are caused by viruses which do not respond to antibiotics. But we can treat symptoms like fever, sore throat, body ache by giving paracetamol or ibuprofen. It is especially important to allow rest and encourage plenty of fluids in order to prevent dehydration
The best way to prevent a cold is not to spread it. Encourage your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or handkerchief and to wash their hands regularly.