Disease at a Glance: Common Cold

Common cold is a viral infection of our upper respiratory tract, primarily affecting the nose and throat. It’s transmitted through airborne droplet infection and direct contact with an infected person. Symptoms may include a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, mild body ache, low-grade fever and nasal congestion. The disease evolves gradually – you may start with a scratchy throat and then progress to sneezing, coughing and nasal discharge. This may be followed by mild fever and body ache.


At the onset of the disease, the nasal discharge is usually clear & watery, but as the disease progresses it turns thicker & yellow. This is a good sign because it indicates our body is winning the battle against the viral intruder. Common cold usually lasts 7-10 days. Although there is no single drug to treat common cold, doctors may prescribe antipyretics, antitussives, nasal decongestants and NSAIDs for symptomatic relief. Also recommended are steam inhalation and gargling with warm saline water.


Common Symptoms

Runny nose / Nasal congestion
Sneezing & coughing
Watery eyes
Mild body ache
Low-grade fever 


Common cold is often confused with influenza (or flu as it’s commonly called) because the symptoms are mostly similar. But doctors say the most revealing difference is that unlike common cold where the disease evolves gradually, flu starts with the sudden onset of high fever (102°F or higher) accompanied by chills, severe body ache & headache, and fatigue. The intensity of the symptoms also differs in the two conditions. Flu is characterized by the severity of its symptoms, while common cold usually has much milder symptoms like low-grade fever and mild body ache.


Common cold is the most prevalent infectious disease in the world, hence the name. The good news, however, is that it’s a mild and self-limiting disease with excellent prognosis. But sometimes there can be complications like sinusitis (inflammation of the sinus), ear infection and bronchitis, which require medical attention. It’s a myth that common cold occurs because of exposure to cold weather. What really happens in a severe cold climate is that the immunity system of the nasal mucosa may be somewhat compromised, which results in increased susceptibility to infection.  



1) US National Library of Medicine (
2) Centre of Disease Control & Prevention (
3) National Health Service (


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