When you’re miserable for days with a stuffy nose, aching head, watery eyes and a cough, nothing about it feels “common.” Yet the average adult will experience two to three colds each year, and children even more, making it one of the most widespread illnesses.  

This common ailment has no cure and is also associated with many myths. Since we all experience a cold at one time or another, it’s important to know the facts about the common cold, what causes a cold, and how to treat common cold symptoms. 

Symptoms of the common cold

The symptoms of a cold can be wide-ranging and can last for days or even weeks. They include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Headache
  • Low-grade fever
  • Feeling tired or general discomfort 

Causes of the Common Cold

The facts:

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, caused by exposure to one of many viruses. The virus may be passed through:

  • direct contact, such as touching a surface that has the virus on it
  • airborne exposure to a droplet from a cough or sneeze
  • sharing personal items with an infected individual, such as utensils or blankets

The myths:

Some of the myths you might hear about what causes a cold are simply not true. 

  • Don’t go outside when it’s cold. While cold weather can cause discomfort if you’re not dressed properly, it does not cause you to catch a cold. However, you are more likely to contract a virus that causes a cold during the winter because viruses survive better in lower temperatures. 
  • Never go out with wet hair. Your hair may freeze into icicles, but you are no more or less likely to catch a cold because your hair is wet when you leave the house. 

Best Ways to Treat the Common Cold

The facts: 

While there is no cure for the common cold, you can treat the symptoms associated with it. Drink plenty of fluids, get bedrest if you can, and try over-the-counter acetaminophen for aches and pains, and cough medicine and decongestants to relieve your cold symptoms. 

The myths:

  • Feed a cold, starve a fever. It’s unclear where this old wives’ tale originated, but it can safely be ignored. Whether you have a cold or fever, your body needs the energy from food to fight off your illness. It’s also important to stay hydrated while you’re sick, so be sure to drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids, such as water and juice.
  • Chicken soup. It’s said that chicken soup is good for the soul, but what about for a cold? The jury may still be out on this one. Some experts say that eating a steaming bowl of chicken soup can clear the congestion and stuffiness of a cold and give you some relief from your cold systems. It may also reduce inflammation. So, while it may not be an official treatment, this comfort food provides the body with hydration, vegetables, and healthy protein, and might just make you feel better.
  • Vitamin C. While this vitamin is key for your immune system and keeping you healthy, studies over the past few decades have not shown any proof that taking Vitamin C has any impact on a cold and its symptoms. 
  • Echinacea and Zinc. Like Vitamin C, researchers have studied both Echinacea and Zinc as possible ways to prevent or treat a cold. While study results are inconsistent, there is a belief that echinacea and zinc may shorten the duration of a cold slightly.
  • Antibiotics. Many individuals believe antibiotics to be the go-to for everything that ails them. The truth is that antibiotics are only to treat bacterial infections. Viruses are not affected by these medications. In fact, over-prescribing antibiotics can actually make some conditions immune to the antibiotics, and lead to the creation of superbugs. Do not take antibiotics for a cold or for anything other than the purpose for which your doctor has prescribed them.

The next time you are experiencing cold symptoms, be sure to get plenty of rest, and don’t fall for the myths out there. If your symptoms don’t improve within two weeks, call your primary care provider to determine if it is something more than a cold.  If you need a primary care provider, you can find one here

Lifespan Blog Team

The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.