Symptoms and Signs of Common Cold

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/25/2021

Doctor's Notes on Common Cold

Colds are self-limiting upper respiratory viral infections (over 250 types) that usually affect the nose but may affect the throat, sinuses, ear structures, and bronchi. Signs and symptoms are mild, self-limiting, and can include postnasal drip (runny nose), sneezing, nasal congestion, cough, and watery and/or itchy eyes. Some individuals develop a sore throat, low fever, and mildly swollen lymph nodes near the face and neck. Colds do not involve the lungs. Most symptoms wane after about 5-10 days, but the cough, for example, often lasts longer, sometimes up to 3 weeks.

Viral infections (especially rhinovirus types and less commonly, RSV, coronavirus, and adenovirus types) cause colds. Colds are very contagious and easily spread by close associations, coughs, and sneezes.

What Are the Treatments of a Common Cold?

Treatment of the common cold is supportive care. The disease is self-limiting. Supportive care may include some of the following:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Soothe your throat with a saltwater gargle or ice chips.
  • Relieve your congestion (saline drops, nasal sprays).
  • Take medication for pain relief (acetaminophen [Tylenol], no aspirin for children).
  • Sip warm liquids.
  • Honey (not for infants under 1 year of age) can soothe a sore throat.
  • Breathe humidified air.
  • Use over-the-counter age-specific cold and cough medications.
  • Items like vitamin C and Zinc, for example, may or may not be helpful in some individuals.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.