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Understanding the Common Cold -- the Basics

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Common Cold Symptoms

When a cold strikes, you may have symptoms like:

  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Mucus draining from your nose into your throat

More severe symptoms, such as high fever or muscle aches, may be a sign that you have the flu rather than a cold.

For more detail, see Common Cold Symptoms: What You Might Feel.

Kids and Colds

Children have about 5-7 colds per year. A big part of the reason: They spend time at school or in day care centers where they're in close contact with other kids most of the day. And to top it off, their young immune systems aren't yet strong enough to fight off colds.

For in-depth information, see Children and Colds.

Preparing for Cold Season

In the U.S., most colds happen during the fall and winter. Beginning in late August or early September, the rate increases slowly for a few weeks and remains high until March or April, when it goes down. The reason may partly have to do with the opening of schools. Cold weather may also play a role because it leads you to spend more time indoors, where you're in closer contact with people who are contagious.

Changes in humidity in different seasons may also affect how often people get sick. The most common cold viruses survive better when it's low. Also, cold weather may make the lining of your nose drier and more vulnerable to an infection by a virus.

When to Call the Doctor About a Cold

Most colds last about 7 to 10 days, but if your symptoms linger, you may need to call the doctor. Sometimes, colds lead to an infection by bacteria in in your lungssinuses, or ears. If that happens, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, which work against bacteria but not against viruses.

For more detail, see Common Cold Complications.

More Questions About Colds?

Need more info about the common cold? See 10 Questions About Colds.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 02, 2015
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