Demystifying the Common Cold: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Did you know that patients with the common cold have more visits to the doctor than any other condition in the US? This happens because cold is highly contagious and spreads through close contact with the infected person. Adults and young children can get infected. However, it is a harmless condition and preventable as well. Learn what causes the common cold and how you can treat it in this article. Log on to for a consultation.


Common colds can be caused by over 200 viruses, but rhinoviruses are the most common ones. This virus can enter your body through the mouth, eyes, and nose. Your immune system tries to fight it; the stronger the immune system, the more capable of removing the virus from your body. However, if your immune system can’t fight off the virus, then its symptoms will appear.

The virus can spread through:

  • Water droplets in the air when someone is infected coughs, sneezes, and talks.
  • You touch someone who has a cold.
  • You share objects that contain virus strains like dishes, towels, telephones, tables, etc.
  • You touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching objects that have the virus.


Common cold symptoms usually appear in 3 stages – early, active, and late.

Stage 1 symptoms (1 to 3 days)

These symptoms occur within 1 to 3 days after getting infected by a cold virus, you may notice a tickle in your throat. Around 50% of people experience a tickle or sore throat as their first symptom. Other common cold symptoms you experience at this stage include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Stuffy nose
  • Hoarseness

Stage 2 symptoms (4 to 7 days)

The first-stage symptoms worsen at this stage, and you experience some additional symptoms as well, like:

  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Tearing eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Fever, typically in children

Stage 3 symptoms (8 to 10 days)

Cold symptoms usually disappear at this stage. However, some symptoms persist. Some people experience a nagging cough that may last up to 2 months after a respiratory infection.

If your symptoms get worse and the fever returns, then seek your healthcare provider because you may develop another infection or complication, such as bronchitis, sinusitis, or pneumonia.

Cold symptoms are different in babies, including:

  • Runny nose (the discharge may start clear but later turn into thicker yellow or green).
  • Fever of 100 to 102 Fahrenheit (38.3 to 38.9 degrees Celsius).
  • Severe cough
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat and difficulty swallowing.
  • Slightly swollen glands.

In case your child shows any of these symptoms mentioned below you should take them to a healthcare provider because these symptoms could mean your child is experiencing something more serious than a cold.

  • Fever in an infant who is 2 months old or younger.
  • Wheezing
  • Ribs become visible with each breath
  • Blue lips
  • Fast or labored breathing.
  • Difficulty breathing especially if your baby or child’s nostrils get widened with each breath.
  • Not eating or drinking can lead to dehydration.
  • Ear pain
  • A cough lasts more than 3 weeks.
  • Excessive sleepiness or crankiness.

Diagnosis and treatment

For diagnosis, your healthcare provider will check your symptoms by performing a physical exam. During the exam, your provider will check for signs like:

  • Swelling in your nostrils.
  • A stuffy nose
  • Clear lungs
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck.
  • A red, irritated throat.

While in the majority of cases, a physical exam is enough to diagnose a cold. However, you may need more tests if your doctor suspects that you may have COVID-19, flu, or another condition. For that, your provider recommends you get tests like a nasal swab test to check for viral infections or chest X-rays to rule out other conditions such as bronchitis or pneumonia that cause somewhat similar symptoms.

While there’s no cure for a cold, it gets better on its own within 7 to 10 days (about 1 and a half weeks) and without causing any serious problems. However, you can take certain over the counter (OTC) medications to reduce your symptoms and help you recover, including:

  • Pain relievers: These include acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are used to relieve headaches or fever.
  • Decongestants: These medications can relieve your nasal congestion and stuffiness.
  • Antihistamines: These medications can be used to stop sneezing and a runny nose.
  • Cough suppressants: Medications like dextromethorphan and codeine can be used to relieve you from coughing. However, it is not recommended for children under 5 years of age.
  • Expectorants: These medications may help lower mucus.

If you need help with your common cold symptoms, visit our clinic in Brooklyn to get professional medical help. Our infectious disease doctors make sure your condition gets diagnosed and treated properly. For more information or to make an appointment, call us to get a consultation. Call us on +1-347-384-5690. If you need any information on infections, log on to for a consultation. We have the best doctors that can help you and improve your quality of life!