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Causes of the Common Cold

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More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the common cold -- and the miserable symptoms that come with it.

The most common cold viruses include:

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  • Rhinoviruses -- causing 10% to 40% of colds
  • Coronaviruses -- causing 20% of colds
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and parainfluenza -- responsible for 10% of colds

 

Rhinoviruses and the Common Cold

Rhinoviruses, the worst offenders, are most active in early fall, spring, and summer. More than 110 distinct rhinovirus types have been identified. Most rhinoviruses seldom produce serious illnesses. However, other cold viruses, such as parainfluenza and RSV, can lead to severe lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, in young children.

 

Coronaviruses and the Common Cold

Scientists think coronaviruses cause a large percentage of adult colds. These cold viruses are most active in the winter and early spring. Of the more than 30 kinds of coronaviruses, three or four infect humans. 

Other Causes of the Common Cold

About 10% to 15% of adult colds are caused by viruses also responsible for other, more severe respiratory illnesses.

The causes of 20%-30% of adult colds, presumed to be viral, remain unidentified. The same viruses that produce colds in adults appear to cause colds in children. The relative importance of various viruses in children's colds, however, is unclear because it's difficult to isolate the precise cause of symptoms in studies of children with colds.

There is no evidence that you can get a cold from exposure to cold weather or from getting chilled or overheated. 

 

Stress, Allergies, and the Common Cold

There is also no evidence that your chances of getting a cold are related to factors such as diet or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. On the other hand, research suggests that psychological stress and allergic diseases affecting your nose or throat may have an impact on your chances of getting infected by cold viruses. Some studies suggest moderate exercise can boost the immune system and decrease stress. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on January 20, 2015
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