Common Cold – Symptoms and Causes

Written by Dr. Rachna Kucheria (MBBS MAMC New Delhi, MD AIIMS New Delhi, MD (Family Medicine) USC California), one of the best general physicians in Delhi NCR.

common cold symtoms and causes

The common cold, despite its name, is no simple ailment. It affects millions of people worldwide, causing discomfort and inconvenience. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the symptoms and causes of the common cold, providing valuable insights for better understanding and management.

What is the Common Cold?

The common cold, medically known as viral upper respiratory tract infection, is a contagious illness primarily caused by various viruses. Rhinoviruses are the most common culprits, but other viruses such as coronaviruses, adenoviruses, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can also trigger cold symptoms.

Symptoms of the Common Cold:

Recognizing the symptoms of a common cold is crucial for early identification and appropriate management. While symptoms may vary from person to person, the following are commonly observed:

  • Runny or stuffy nose: Nasal congestion and discharge are hallmark symptoms of a cold, often accompanied by sneezing.
  • Sore throat: A scratchy or irritated throat is another common complaint.
  • Cough: A dry or productive cough may develop as the cold progresses, irritating the throat and airways.
  • Sneezing: Frequent and sudden bouts of sneezing are typical, especially in the early stages.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or lethargic is common, as the body works to fight off the viral infection.
  • Mild body aches: Muscular discomfort or mild body aches may occur, though they are usually less severe than with the flu.
  • Low-grade fever: Some individuals may experience a slight increase in body temperature, although fever is more common in children than adults.

Causes of the Common Cold:

Understanding the causes of the common cold can help in prevention and management strategies. The primary mode of transmission is through:

  • Direct contact: Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with cold viruses and then touching the face, particularly the nose, eyes, or mouth, can lead to infection.
  • Airborne transmission: Inhalation of respiratory droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes can spread the virus to others in close proximity.
  • Indirect contact: Sharing personal items such as towels, utensils, or electronic devices with an infected individual can facilitate virus transmission.
  • Poor hygiene practices: Inadequate hand hygiene, such as not washing hands frequently and thoroughly, increases the risk of contracting the common cold.

Weakened immune system: Factors such as stress, lack of sleep, nutritional deficiencies, and underlying health conditions can compromise the immune response, making individuals more susceptible to cold viruses.

Prevention Strategies:

Prevention is key to reducing the risk of catching a cold. Incorporate the following practices into your daily routine:

  • Hand hygiene: Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing, or touching surfaces in public places.
  • Respiratory etiquette: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets.
  • Avoid close contact: Minimize contact with individuals who are sick, and maintain a safe distance from others, particularly in crowded or enclosed spaces.
  • Boost immune health: Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, stay hydrated, exercise regularly, manage stress, and get adequate sleep to support a healthy immune system.
  • Vaccination: Consider getting vaccinated against the flu, as it can help prevent complications and reduce the burden on healthcare resources during cold and flu season.

When to Seek Medical Attention:

While the common cold typically resolves on its own within a week or two, certain circumstances warrant medical evaluation:

  • Persistent or worsening symptoms
  • High fever (above 100.4°F or 38°C)
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • Severe headache or facial pain
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Symptoms lasting more than 10 days without improvement


The common cold may be ubiquitous, but with proper knowledge and preventive measures, its impact can be minimized. By understanding the symptoms and causes of the common cold, individuals can take proactive steps to protect themselves and others from this prevalent viral infection. Remember, prevention is always better than cure, so prioritize good hygiene practices and a healthy lifestyle to stay well during cold season and beyond. Stay informed, stay healthy!

If you have any concerns or queries about common cold .consult a highly experienced general physician on DocGenie. All our GPs are available for online video sessions. With DocGenie you can get quality medical help from the comfort of your home, in a cost effective way.

About the Author

Dr. Rachna Kucheria is one of the best general physicians in Delhi NCR. She is a US-trained Physician (Family Practice) on the lines of the old-fashioned ‘Family Doctor’ we grew up with and hope to find again. Her emphasis on early, accurate diagnosis; appropriate (few) medicines; and clear patient communication, sets her apart as one of the most trusted physicians in Delhi. She is licensed to practice medicine both in India & California.