Common cold (upper respiratory tract infection)

Abdomen | General Practice | Common cold (upper respiratory tract infection) (Disease)


The common cold is medically referred to as a viral upper respiratory tract infection. Symptoms of the common cold may include sore throat, cough, runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing.

The upper respiratory tract is formed by the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx. These structures direct the air we breathe from the outside to the trachea and eventually to the lungs forming the respiration cycle. An upper respiratory tract infection, or also called a upper respiratory infection, is an infectious process of any of the structures of the upper airway.

Acute upper respiratory tract infections include rhinitis, pharyngitis/tonsillitis and laryngitis often referred to as a common cold, and their complications may include: sinusitis, ear infection and sometimes bronchitis (though bronchi are usually classified as part of the lower respiratory tract. ) Symptoms of URIs commonly include runny nose, cough, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, low grade fever, facial pressure and sneezing. Onset of symptoms usually begins 1–3 days after exposure. The illness usually lasts 7–10 days.

Causes and Risk factors

The common cold can be cause by a number of different types of viruses being also a self-limited contagious illness. There have been isolated over 200 different viruses in patients with URIs. The most common virus is called the rhinovirus. Other viruses include the parainfluenza virus, coronavirus, adenovirus, enterovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus.

Influenza (or the flu) is a more severe systemic illness which typically involves the upper respiratory tract. Influenza is a relatively uncommon cause of influenza-like illness.

Upper respiratory infections are most common the fall and winter months, from September to March, but they can also happen at any time. This can be explained because these are the usual school months when children and adolescents spend a lot of time in groups and inside closed doors. Furthermore, many viruses of upper respiratory infection thrive in the low humidity of the winter.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A history and physical exam will be performed. A Chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia is sometimes performed. Treatment includes: medications for fever (acetaminophen, ibuprofen), antihistamines for excessive runny nose, and oral fluids to reverse dehydration. There is currently no vaccination for the common cold. ...