Treatment of the Common Cold

Treatment of the Common Cold

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract. Both children and adults are susceptible to the common cold. In this article, we’ll discuss the treatment of the common cold in adults and children.

The Basics

What is the common cold?

The common cold is a contagious viral infection. It affects the nose and throat, or the upper respiratory tract. Numerous viruses can cause a cold.

Most adults will experience a cold once or twice a year, although smokers might catch it more often. Thankfully, colds usually go away by themselves after 7 to 10 days. There are many over-the-counter medications that can be used as treatment for the common cold in children and adults.

If your condition fails to improve after 10 days, consult your doctor.

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Just how common is the common cold?

You can expect your child to have around 8 to 10 bouts of the common cold a year. It is also contagious, meaning it can be passed from one person to another through coughing or sneezing. The particles released by a cough or sneeze can be inhaled by someone else, making them sick. That means that family members within the same household can easily catch the bug. Parents, boasting stronger immune systems, run a lower risk of becoming sick.

The common cold is responsible for most sick days that a child will experience in the early years of schooling. Infection may necessitate treatment of the common cold in adults and children.

Signs and Symptoms

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

Symptoms can appear 1 to 3 days after exposure to the virus. Some people will exhibit all symptoms, while others will have just a few of them. The symptoms of the common cold are:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Nasal discharge that starts clear but turns gray (can also be green or yellow)
  • Most children will have fever at the start
  • Sore or itchy throat
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Slight body aches
  • Mild headaches

Children can also have less common symptoms, including:

  • Hoarse voice
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

When should I see my doctor?

The common cold is not usually a cause for great concern. In most cases, you do not need to bring your child to the hospital for a cold.

However, it is advisable to seek medical attention right away if your child exhibits some of these symptoms:

  • Fever of 38 degrees Centigrade or higher in babies, including newborns up to 12 weeks old
  • Your child has a fever or rising fever that lasts longer than two days
  • Your child’s condition does not improve or is progressively getting worse
  • Severe symptoms (headache or cough)
  • Wheezing
  • Ear pain
  • Extreme fussiness
  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Blue lips or nails
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nostrils are getting larger with each breath
  • Ribs are pulling in with each breath

Your doctor may suggest different types of treatment of the common cold based on the severity of the symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors

What causes the common cold?

Many viruses can cause the common cold, with rhinoviruses being the culprit of most cases. Rhinoviruses have also been linked to asthma and sinus infections, making it possible to experience either alongside a cold. Other cold-causing viruses are human parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, human coronaviruses, and adenovirus.

What increases my risk for the common cold?

There are many risk factors for catching the common cold. Here are some factors:

Age. Children younger than 6 are more vulnerable to catching colds.

Weak immune system. A chronic illness or a weakened immune system can increase your chances of catching a cold.

Cold weather. Colder weather makes it easier for some viruses to spread.

Smoking. Cigarette smoking increases the chance of catching the common cold.

Exposure. Exposure or close proximity to individuals who have a cold increases your chances of becoming sick as well.

treatment of the common cold

Lifestyle Changes & Home Remedies

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. Always consult your doctor before pursuing treatment.

What are some home remedies that can help me manage my cold?

Here are some home remedies that can help with the treatment of the common cold in children and adults:

  • Pain relievers. For a fever, sore throat, and/or headache, many people use acetaminophen (like Tylenol or Paracetamol) or other mild pain relievers. Follow label directions to avoid side effects. If giving pain relievers to your child, use over-the-counter medicine designed specifically for children or infants (Children’s Tylenol, Children’s Advil, etc.). Children or teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should not be given aspirin, as it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome.
  • Cough syrup. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics do not suggest giving over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children younger than 4 years old. It is also not commonly recommended to give cough medicine to older children. Don’t give your child two medicines with the same active ingredient, like an antihistamine, decongestant or pain reliever, as it can result in an accidental overdose.
  • Decongestant nasal spray. Adults can use decongestant drops or sprays for up to 5 days, as prolonged usage can cause rebound symptoms. Do not use decongestant drops or sprays on children younger than 6.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. This replaces fluids lost during mucus production and prevents dehydration.
  • Chicken soup. Research shows that chicken soup can help control neutrophils, which cause congestion.
  • Rest. A warm bath is effective in relieving body aches.
  • Adjust room temperature and humidity. Run a hot shower to create a steam-filled environment to clear a stuffy nose.
  • Saline nasal drops. When placed in nostrils, saline or saltwater drops are effective in managing nasal congestion.

What can I do to prevent me or my child from catching a cold?

The best treatment for the common cold is prevention. To prevent you or your child from catching a cold, it is best to stay away from those who are sick. This is especially true for babies younger than 3 months. Viral infections that are typically mild in adults and older children can become very serious in infants.

Hand washing is key to preventing viral infections and illnesses. Wash your hands with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand sanitizer regularly, and encourage your child to do the same. It is recommended that people cover their noses and mouths with a piece of tissue and/or handkerchief when coughing or sneezing (tissue should be disposed of immediately after). This prevents virus-containing particles from spreading in the air.

Learn more about Parenting here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Sky Abundo Updated Sep 29, 2020
Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD