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Common Cold Facts versus Fiction

The Common Cold is caused by a great number of viruses. More than 200 different viruses have been identified. Because of this, our system is not able to build up the immune system resistance. You are more at risk to catch a cold during the cold months, but viruses are active all year long and you could experience symptoms any time of the year. These viruses live on surfaces like doorknobs, toys, shopping carts. They are easily spread when people sneeze and cough and the droplets in the air get in contact with people.

Doctors refer to the Common Cold as Upper Respiratory Infection. Symptoms involve coughing, sneezing, sore throat,nasal congestion and runny nose. Not to be confused with Allergies, which may have similar symptoms. It is impossible to avoid exposure to viruses, but there are a number of things you can do to limit the risks. Since children are much more at risk of contracting a cold, they should be taught practices to limit contact and exposure.

How it starts

A cold virus attaches to the lining of your nose or throat and your immune system sends white blood cells out to fight this germ. If you had this exact strain of virus before your body may have some immunity built up. If you have not encountered that exact strain of the virus before, your white blood cells go into overdrive but may fail to battle the oncoming attack. Your nose and throat get inflamed and produce a lot of mucus. With so much of your body’s energy directed at fighting the cold virus, you’re left feeling tired and miserable, and it is a downward spiral from there on. Eventually the infection moves into your chest, causing mucus in the lungs. You may end up with a low grade fever and feeling run down. It may take days to feel better and fight of the cold virus.

Kids are much more likely to catch a cold than adults. They are more likely to be in Schools and Daycare Centers, in close proximity to others. Older Adults or those with weakened immune systems are more at risk. Between August and April the chances of contracting a virus is much more likely.

Since the common cold is a viral infection, antibiotics are not a suitable treatment for the Common Cold. Antibiotics do not work for viral infections. Colds typically last up to 10 days and could turn into a bacterial infection, in which case antibiotics are needed. If a cold lingers, consult your doctor for appropriate treatment.

Risk Factors 

  • Age – Young Children and older adult are more at risk. This population tends to have a weaker immune system and are much more likely to be infected and experience severe symptoms.
  • Season – Cold and Winter Season are more risky since people are more likely to stay indoors and in close proximity to each other.
  • Weak Immune System – a compromised immune system will increase exposure and contracting a cold much more likely, and symptoms will be more severe. Your body will not have the capacity to fight of viruses.
  • Stress – weakens the immune system over time – increases the chance of contracting an illness


Learn to recognize the symptoms of a common cold. Not every illness requires a doctor visit. If you can identify the symptoms of a common cold and treat it at home, you save yourself a trip to the Doc. There is nothing he can give you to make it better sooner.

Symptoms of a Common Cold 

  • nasal stuffiness or drainage,
  • sore or scratchy throat,
  • sneezing,
  • hoarseness
  • cough,
  • watery eyes,
  • low-grade fever,
  • headache,
  • body aches,
  • fatigue.
Girl got cold
Girl got cold


Cold Weather and Exposure

Cold Weather does not cause an increase in risks of contracting the common cold virus. The fact that people are more likely to spend more time inside and to close proximity to each other makes exposure more likely. Schools and DayCare Centers are especially affected. Children are more likely to stay indoors rather than going to the play ground. Sneezing and Coughing is unavoidable and toys get contaminated and shared.

Identifying the Common Cold

Typically the Common Cold is identified based on the symptoms. Not to be confused with Influenza, which has similar but much more severe symptoms such as sudden onset, high fever, headaches, body and muscle aches, chills and dry cough. Laboratory testing is not necessary unless there are underlying health concerns by your physician.

Myths and misconceptions about the Common Cold are as plentiful as there are viruses that cause the illness. Which ones are true and work and which ones are fiction and a waste of time? We looked at some common myths.

Fiction about the Common Cold

  • You can catch a cold if you’re exposed to the elements too long. Being outside, getting wet and getting cold does not increase your chances. Being cold does not equal getting a cold.
  • Stress gets you sick. Fiction. While Stress may lower your immune system and increase your risk of worsening symptoms, even with a super charged immune system you feel the symptoms of the virus.
  • If you head gets cold you will catch a cold. You lose heat much more from your head but a warm coat will keep you warm enough in winter tool. While it may feel uncomfortable without a hat in winter, your chances of catching a cold are not increased.
  • Antibiotics treat cold symptoms – The Common Cold is a viral infection, therefore antibiotics don’t work.
  • Zinc helps fight colds – there are no unflawed studies that suggest that zinc works. It is discouraged to use products with zinc because the zinc was found to cause temporary and permanent loss of smell.

Facts about the Common Cold

  • The illness will have to run it’s course. There is no medical treatment for the common cold. If it lingers, get’s much worse or with additional symptoms like severe headache, pain, fever consult a physician.
  • Common cold is highly contagious via touch and inhaling droplets from other people sneezing and coughing.
  • The velocity of a sneeze is about as fast as a professional baseball pitcher can throw a fastball – about 100 miles (150 km) per hour. Dropplets end up far away and on you if you happen to be within that distance.
  • You can catch a cold through your eyes. If your hands are infected and you touch your eyes, you contract the viruses as easily as through the nose or mouth.
  • Chicken Soup can zap a cold. Science found that chicken soup may have a positive effect on the immune system with something called neutrophil aggregation. This process has been found to bring white blood cells together. White blood cells are your army against invaders such as viruses and other illnesses. Definitely not just an old wives tale.

You can take care of your cold at home with OTC Drugs from you local Drug Store. You can find many brands and even more choices depending on your symptoms. If in doubt, consult with a pharmacist.

Over the Counter Treatment and Medications

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) – Treats minor conditions such as headache, muscle aches, colds, and fevers.
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) -Treats pain and fever. This medicine is an NSAID, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug and work by reducing the hormone that cause pain and inflammation.
  • Decongestants – temporarily dry up nasal passages, but when used for too many days can actually increase mucus  and stuffiness.
  • Cough suppressants – help to control excessive coughing, especially at night, but should not be used all the time as coughing helps to expel mucus from lungs.
  • Antihistamine – may help to dry up runny noses and other symptoms similar to allergies, but there is no proof it works.

When to Consult with your Doctor

  • high fever (102º or higher)
  • severe headache
  • stiff neck
  • shaking chills
  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • if no improvement after 7-10 days

If the only symptoms are a sore throat and fever consult your physician. This could indicate Strep Throat, a highly contagious bacterial infection, which requires antibiotic treatment.