(Viral Rhinitis; Upper Respiratory Tract Infection; URI)
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
The common cold is an infection that can irritate your nose and throat.
The common cold is caused by a virus. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold.
Factors that may increase your chance of a cold include:
A cold may cause:
The diagnosis is most often based on your symptoms. Generally, tests are not needed to make a diagnosis unless another condition is suspected, such as pneumonia.
A cold usually lasts 10 days or longer. There are no cures for a cold, but treatments can ease symptoms. These include:
To make you more comfortable:
To relieve aches, pains, and fever consider non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Prescription antiviral medication is usually not necessary.
Note : Aspirin can cause serious complications in some children with certain infections. It is best to avoid aspirin or aspirin products for children with infections.
Cough and cold remedies include:
Note : Cough and cold medications should not be used in children under 2 years old, and they are not recommended in children under 4 years old. The US Food and Drug Administration has not completed its review regarding the safety of over-the-counter cough and cold medications in children ages 2-11 years. Rare, but serious side effects have been reported.
Decongestant pills or nasal sprays can shrink nasal passages. They also decrease mucus production. Nasal sprays should only be used for 2-3 days. Longer use can lead to increased congestion when you stop using the product.
Many people use alternative treatments to relieve their cold symptoms. Some of the more popular choices include:
Note: Some supplements and herbal treatments may not be pure. Many can also interact with prescription medications and over-the-counter products. Talk to your doctor before using any of these products.
The most important way to keep from getting or spreading a cold is by washing your hands. Wash your hands well and often. Other ways to keep from getting a cold:
American Lung Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Public Health Agency of Canada
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Colds and flus. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated December 2015. Accessed August 14, 2017.
Pappas DE, Hendley JO, Hayden FG, Winther B. Symptom profile of common colds in school-aged children. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2008;27(1):8-11.
Slapak I, Skoupá J, Strnad P, Horník P. Efficacy of isotonic nasal wash (seawater) in the treatment and prevention of rhinitis in children. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008;134(1):67-74.
Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated April 10, 2017. Accessed August 14, 2017.
Upper respiratory infection (URI) in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated March 3, 2016. Accessed August 14, 2017.
12/4/2007 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Lizogub VG, Riley DS, Heger M. Efficacy of a pelargonium sidoides preparation in patients with the common cold: Arandomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Explore (NY). 2007;3(6):573-584.
1/30/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(12):1149-1153.
8/6/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Hemila H, Chalker E, Douglas B. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(3):CD000980.
7/6/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Paul IM, Beiler JS, King TS, Clapp ER, Vallati J, Berlin CM. Vapor rub, petrolatum, and no treatment for children with nocturnal cough and cold symptoms. Pediatrics. 2010;126(6):1092-1099.
2/3/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Rantala A, Jaakkola JJ, Jaakkola MS. Respiratory infections in adults with atopic disease and IgE antibodies to common aeroallergens. PLoS One. 2013;8(7):e68582.
Last reviewed September 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 2/7/2019
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at email@example.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.