Common Cold - Symptoms and causes

Common Cold

Common cold is a very common illness especially amongst children, and is the complaint that is seen most frequently by their GP.

The common cold is inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, and is caused mostly by rhinoviruses.


Viruses are the principal cause. The most common virus is the rhinoviruses and coronaviruses, but there are more than 200 viruses that can cause a cold.


A cold generally begins with an increase in temperature in adults a mild fever, but in children they tend to develop a higher temperature.
  • Runny nose: with nasal congestion, giving the feeling of a blocked nose. It is clear and runny to start with and then it sometimes becomes purulent and thicker when infected.
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea are sometimes noted

In babies feeding can be difficult as their noses are blocked with congestion and therefore snuffly when feeding.


The common cold is generally a benign infection. It can last for 7 to 10 days and in some it can cause ear infections, sinusitis, laryngitis and bronchitis.

Risk factors for acquiring a cold

Anybody of any age can catch a cold, with the winter months being the most endemic. Children more than adults suffer with colds. Nurseries, schools and public places are breeding grounds for the transmission of the viruses. An allergic background, a deficiency in iron, passive smoking, those living in communal settings for example elderly care homes or those immunocompromised ie HIV, leukaemia, undergoing cancer treatment.


  • Treat the fever and headache with paracetamol
  • Encourage fluids
  • Avoid overheating the room
  • Good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of germ therefore wash your hands before touching your child
  • Do not smoke
  • Keep the nose clean and dispose of tissues in the bin to avoid the spread of germs.
  • Antibiotics are not useful in a common cold:
    • Antibiotics are only considered in certain circumstances, for example ear infections, sinusitis and bronchitis. Your GP will assess and advise you.

Recurrent runny nose symptoms

Recurrent cold like symptoms can be caused by an allergy to dust mites or pollen or chronic rhinitis nasal symptoms. See your GP for advice if you have recurrent problems.
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