What Puts You at Risk for the Common Cold?

Maybe you're one of the lucky few. You have to think hard to remember when you last got sick. But for the rest of us, two to four colds a year is pretty much the norm. So what gives?

Your age and the company you keep are a big part of your risk. But whether you're young or old, there are simple things you can do to get the upper hand against germs.

Colds and Your Newborn

Your little one is at higher risk for colds and other infections for the first 4 to 6 weeks. That's because his immune system -- the body's defense against germs -- isn't working at full speed yet.

To help your newborn from getting sick, breastfeed him if possible. It gives him antibodies that fight germs. If you bottle-feed, sterilize the bottles and nipples between feedings. To do this, boil them or put them in the dishwasher.

Keep his formula or breast milk in the refrigerator until you need it. Then warm the milk and give it to your baby right away, before bacteria have a chance to grow. Throw out any unused portions after each feeding. Your baby's saliva has germs which multiply quickly. And wash your hands before and after you feed your baby or change his diaper.

Keep your little one away from anyone who's sick. If possible, avoid crowds and public transportation when you go out with your baby.

Young Kids

If your toddler or preschooler seems to have one cold after another, you are not alone. Most you kids get five to seven -- or more -- colds each year.

And that's not all. Ear infections are common, especially for kids with brothers and sisters or who spend time with their friends in day care.

For this age group, there's no big mystery about how colds spread. If your kid touches his runny nose and then puts his hands on a toy, those cold germs are still around when another child picks it up.

Follow these tips to help keep your youngster healthy:

  • Wash his toys with soap and water and then let them air-dry. Use a dishwasher if it won't mess them up.
  • Wash pacifiers often with soap and water.
  • Regularly wipe your kid's hands with a clean washcloth and warm water.
  • Make sure his hands get washed before eating and after playtime.


Day Care

Colds can spread easily in day care, so you'll want to take some extra steps to keep your child healthy.

Teach him to wash his hands the right way. Make sure he gets them wet with water and plain soap and rubs for 20 to 30 seconds. An easy way for him to get the timing right -- sing "Happy Birthday" twice while he washes. Remind him to wash up before eating and after going to the bathroom.

Also follow these tips:

  • Tell your child not to share cups, glasses, and forks and spoons.
  • Keep him at home when he's sick.
  • Make sure he gets enough sleep, eats a healthy diet, and gets plenty of time to play outdoors.
  • Replace his toothbrush and make sure he doesn't borrow one from his brother or sister.

Life in College Dorms

It's easy to catch a cold if you live in a college dorm, where lots of students live in a small space and breathe the same air and touch the same surfaces.

Tell your student to follow some of the same advice he needed back when he was in preschool: Wash hands often, eat healthy foods, and get as much sleep as possible.

Weak Immune Systems

If you've got a weakened immune system, you're at a higher risk for colds. That's the case if you have AIDS, get chemotherapy, or just had an organ transplant.

Make sure everyone in your family is up to date with their vaccines. Your visitors may need to wear gloves and masks so they don't spread their germs to you.

And like anyone who wants to keep germs at bay, try to have a nutritious diet and get enough rest.

Older Adults

As you get older, especially from age 65 and on, you're at more risk for getting colds, and they may stick around longer, too.

To stay healthy, eat right, get plenty of exercise, drink lots of water, and get enough rest.

Wash your hands thoroughly several times a day, and especially before eating and after you go to the bathroom.

Also, never share a toothbrush, and make sure you replace your toothbrush regularly.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on July 27, 2016



Thompson, K. and Bruce, D. Overkill, Rodale Press, 2002.

National Center for Infectious Diseases: "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Colds."

Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research: "Social Support, Stress, and the Common Cold."

CDC: "Human Parainfluenza Viruses (Common Cold and Croup)."

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Common Cold Prevention."

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