Common Cold

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Common Cold
Common Cold aerosolized particles

Common cold (chill) is a group of diseases, which we refer to as “catching a cold“. These are respiratory viral infections, which have similarities in their nature and symptoms, as well as some major differences. Flu is also caused by a virus, however, it would be wrong to refer to every disease associated with respiratory viral infections as “flu“.


Common cold is caused by viruses: rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus, RSV, adenovirus and influenzavirus (discussed in “Flu”). These infections spread by direct contact, by ingestion of contaminated water or food, or by inhalation of aerosolized particles.

These viruses usually settle in a human host when the immunity is weakened or impaired. Children tend to catch a cold easier than adults, because their immune system is not yet developed. The causes of weakened immunity in adults are stress, chill, fatigue, inadequate diet and others.

The Differences and Symptoms of Viral Respiratory Diseases

  • Rhinoviruses are the commonest cause of common cold. Such infection usually causes rhinitis (runny nose) and does not spread further than the nasal mucosa. Fever and headaches could be present. A specific complication of this disease is sinusitis. It is quite dangerous in newborns and babies.
  • Parainfluenza viruses usually cause rhinitis, cough, laryngitis and pharyngitis. Fever is common and muscle ache might be present in case of this type of common cold.
  • RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) also causes rhinitis, cough, laryngitis and fever. The complications include bronchitis and bronchiolitis in children.
  • Adenoviruses cause rhinitis, fever and cough. The unique symptoms of this infection are erythematous eye mucosa, enlarged lymph nodes and a sore throat.


Respiratory viral infections are diagnosed based on clinical signs and symptoms and by excluding other possible diseases. It is important to make a blood test and measure the level of the inflammatory protein.

Tests to determine the exact type of virus could be conducted; however, they are very complex and expensive, therefore they are only used for scientific purposes. Their practical use is low, because the treatment of all common respiratory viral infections is generally the same.


There is no specific treatment for common cold or other respiratory viral infections. The treatment is symptomatic: bed regime in a warm and well ventilated room, plenty of fluids, vitamin C, cough relieving drugs (even though their effect is controversial - it is better to drink two cups of water instead of one tablet). Parainfluenza virus infections, especially in their early stages, could be treated using a special antiviral drug- rimantadine.


The outcome of common cold and other respiratory viral infections is usually good; however, in some cases the disease might lead to some dangerous complications. Bronchitis, pneumonia and sinusitis are the most common ones. In some cases the viruses might invade the lungs or weaken the local immunity, leading to bacterial infections. To avoid complications it is important to follow a strict regime, lay in bed and to protect and strengthen the immune system. If the course of the disease changes, the treatment changes as well - antibiotics and other treatment methods might be used.


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