A sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing — these are the signs of the common cold.
The common cold hits millions of people in the United States each year. Adults get an average of two to three colds each year while kids get even more. The common cold tends to hit in the winter and spring, but it’s possible to contract a cold any time of year.
Although many different viruses can cause a cold, rhinoviruses are the most common. A cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose, usually when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks (the virus can spread through droplets in the air). You can also catch a cold by touching contaminated objects and surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Usually a sore throat is the first symptom to show up, followed by a runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Sometimes a common cold can cause other symptoms like a mild fever and aching joints. Once you contract a cold virus, it can take a few days for symptoms to develop. For adults, a common cold will usually clear up on its own within 7 to 10 days. If you have a cough, it may take you a little longer.
Colds are highly contagious. The best way to prevent a cold is to avoid touching your face. Cold viruses travel through small liquid droplets when someone with a cold sneezes or coughs. These particles can land on surfaces like doorknobs and computer keyboards and spread to your hands when you touch them. If you then touch your face, the virus has a good chance of entering your eyes, nose or mouth. You should also avoid sharing drinking cups or utensils with anyone who has a cold. It’s also a good idea to frequently wash your hands with soap and water to keep from catching a cold. Scrub them for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold. Drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. Over-the-counter medications can help ease your symptoms. If your cold symptoms continue for more than 7 days or you have a high fever, consult your doctor immediately. Visit one of our urgent care locations.
The cold versus the flu
Although colds and flus are often confused, they are actually quite different. The flu is caused by very different virus types than the ones that cause the common cold. This is why a diagnosed cold caused specifically by a cold virus cannot “become” the flu. What’s more, flu symptoms tend to be worse than cold symptoms, and they come on suddenly (cold symptoms tend to arrive gradually). When you’re hit with the flu, you know it. Flu symptoms include a high fever, chills, and aching muscles and joints. Colds, on the other hand, are usually associated with a sore throat and runny nose. Colds are much more common than the flu. To avoid the flu, get your annual flu shot at any Optum primary care location or urgent care. If you think you may have the flu, visit one or our urgent care locations, no appointment necessary.