What causes the common cold?

Colds are caused by viruses called rhinoviruses. There are about 200 different types of rhinoviruses that can cause the common cold. Despite popular belief, colds are not caused by being wet or cold, although in some cases these conditions may lower the body’s resistance to infection by rhinoviruses.

Colds are very contagious. Rhinoviruses that cause the common cold spread quickly from person to person when someone with the common cold talks, coughs or sneezes. This shoots droplets contaminated with the cold virus into the air where they can be breathed in by others.

You can also get the common cold by touching a person who has a cold, such as shaking hands, or touching a surface contaminated by a cold virus, such as a contaminated computer keyboard or doorknob. If you then touch your mouth, eyes or nose before washing your hands, you transmit the virus from your hands into your body.

What are the risk factors for catching the common cold?

Colds can occur in any age group or population. A number of factors increase your risk of catching a cold, although not all people with risk factors will catch a cold. Risk factors for catching a cold or for developing complications of a cold include:

  • Being an infant, toddler or older adult   

  • Being exposed to a person with a cold

  • Being malnourished

  • Frequently touching the eyes, nose or mouth, especially without washing your hands

  • Having a chronic disease, such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, or heart disease

  • Having a compromised immune system due to such conditions as an immunodeficiency disorder, HIV/AIDS, cancer or cancer treatment, or kidney disease

  • Not getting enough rest

  • Not washing hands after contact with a person who has a cold

  • Not washing hands frequently, especially after touching surfaces that are often contaminated with cold viruses, such as doorknobs, computer keyboards and telephones

Reducing your risk of a cold

You can lower your risk of catching or spreading a cold by:

  • Avoiding contact with a person who has a cold

  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, which can transmit a cold virus from your hands into your body

  • Covering your mouth and nose with your elbow (not the hand) or a tissue when sneezing or coughing

  • Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables

  • Getting enough rest

  • Using appropriate antibacterial cleaners to clean hands and surfaces

  • Washing hands frequently during and after contact with a person who has a cold

  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 15 seconds


What is the common cold?

A cold, often called the common cold, is an extremely widespread upper respiratory infection. Colds are caused by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, including the nose and throat. There are about 200 different types of viruses than can cause a cold. The common cold is one of the most common illnesses. If you have a cold, you’re not alone. Each year, there are more than a billion ... Read more about common coldintroduction


What are the symptoms of the common cold?

Symptoms of the common cold are generally mild and appear two to three days after exposure to a cold virus. Symptoms can vary depending on the specific type of virus causing the cold. Common cold symptoms include:


How is the common cold treated?

There is currently no cure for the common cold. Through treatment you can get relief from your symptoms to get the rest you need to keep up your strength and recover without developing complications.

Treatment of a cold includes:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Popular Ear, Nose and Throat Slide Show