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Understanding the Common Cold -- the Basics

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Common Cold Symptoms

With the common cold, you may have cold symptoms such as an itching or sore throat with sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, and mucus drainage. More severe symptoms, such as high fever or muscle aches, may indicate you have a flu rather than a cold.

For more detail, see WebMD's article on Common Cold Symptoms: What You Might Feel.

Kids and Common Colds

Children have about 5-7 colds per year. A key reason why colds are so common in children is kids spend time at school or in day care centers where they are in close contact with other kids most of the day. Also, children's immune systems aren't yet strong enough to fight off colds.

Adults average about two or three colds a year, although the number ranges widely. Women, especially those 20 to 30 years old, have more colds than men, possibly because of their closer contact with children. On average, people older than 60 have less than one cold a year.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Children and Colds.

Preparing for Cold Season

In the U.S., most colds occur during the fall and winter. Beginning in late August or early September, the rate of colds increases slowly for a few weeks and remains high until March or April, when it declines. The seasonal variation may relate to the opening of schools and to cold weather, which prompt people to spend more time indoors and increase the chances that viruses will spread.

Seasonal changes in relative humidity also may affect the prevalence of colds. The most common cold-causing viruses survive better when humidity is low -- the colder months of the year. Cold weather also may make the inside lining of your nose drier and more vulnerable to viral infection.

When to Call the Doctor About a Cold

Remember, common colds are viral, not bacterial. Many people, though, still ask their doctors for antibiotics when they experience common cold misery. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Antibiotics cannot help a viral infection like a cold.

While most colds last about 7 to 10 days, if your symptoms linger, you may need to call the doctor. Sometimes, common colds can lead to bacterial infections in your lungs, sinuses, or ears that require medical treatment such as antibiotics.

For more detail, see WebMD's article on Common Cold Complications.

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