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  • 50% of Colds in adults are caused by a rhinovirus, which has more than 100 types in its family.
  • Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose and cough.
  • If the Cold symptoms are severe or persist for longer than two weeks, seek medical advice.

A Cold is a contagious infection of the upper respiratory airways caused by a virus. 1

The Common Cold, also known as upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), is caused by many different viruses. 50% of Colds in adults are caused by a rhinovirus, which has more than 100 types in its family 2. After suffering a Cold, the body develops immunity to that particular virus. If a person is exposed to the same virus again, they may not catch a Cold, or may only develop mild symptoms. 3 However, because there are so many cold-causing viruses, most people will never develop complete immunity against the common Cold, making it one of the most prevalent illnesses in society. The average adult may suffer up to five Colds in a year. 4
Colds are transmitted by inhaling tiny droplets breathed out from the nose or mouth of an infected person. The virus can also be transmitted by direct contact with contaminated secretions on the hands or by sharing eating utensils. 5 You cannot catch a Cold simply by being in cold weather - the virus must be present to enter the body.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms first appear between 24 and 72 hours after exposure to the virus and include:

  • Discomfort in the nose or throat.
  • Sneezing.
  • General feeling of being unwell.
  • Runny nose which is watery and clear at first and later becomes thicker, opaque and yellow-green.
  • Many people also develop a cough.
  • A slight fever may be present when symptoms first appear.

Symptoms usually disappear in 4-10 days, although a cough may last up to two weeks. 6

  • Management

    Always consult your Doctor for diagnosis and advice. If the Cold symptoms are severe or persist for longer than two weeks, seek medical advice.

    • There is no specific cure for a Cold. Antibiotics are not used as they are only effective against bacterial infections.
    • Psychological stress can worsen Cold symptoms. 7 Talk to your Doctor about stress management.
    • Smoking can worsen the duration and severity of symptoms. 8 - Handwashing is essential to prevent further spread of the virus.
    • Use tissues, rather than handkerchiefs and dispose of them as soon as they are used.
    • Do not share cups, eating utensils or cigarettes. Avoid close contact with children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems.
    • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. 


    Diet Hints
    • Savoury soups with plenty of vegetables are recommended. The fluid intake combined with warmth helps loosen up thick secretions. Avoid soups based on milk or cream as these will thicken mucus production 9.
    • Avoid foods that aggravate the cough reflex. Dry biscuits and spicy or very sweet foods may promote coughing while liquids tend to have a soothing action.
    • Drink plenty of fluids to keep the mouth and throat moist and prevent dehydration. Water, dilute fruit juice, soup and herbal tea are good choices.
    • Foods high in vitamins A, C, E and zinc may help the body to combat infections. Citrus fruits as well as red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are high in these vitamins 10.
    • Garlic and onions should be eaten regularly to help shift mucus and boost immunity. Garlic has natural antibiotic properties which is thought to be useful in combating infections 11.


    Supplements may only be of value if dietary intake is inadequate.

    • Vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C with bioflavonoids and vitamin E are associated with healthy immune function 12.
    • Zinc is an important element of the immune process and is thought to work in conjunction with many of the above vitamins 13.
    • Echinacea can reduce the duration of cold symptoms. 14 - Garlic and golden seal are reputed to have anti-bacterial properties, along with immune enhancing activity 15.
    • Horseradish and elecampane may assist in resolving mucus 16

  • Pharmacist's Advice
    1. Follow the Diet Hints.
    2. Ask your Pharmacist for Cold tablets, lozenges or cough mixtures, which may relieve the Cold symptoms 17.
    3. There are inhalants and nasal sprays available from your Pharmacy. These are used to help clear nasal congestion. Ask your Pharmacist for suggestions.
    4. If a fever - adults is present take paracetamol or aspirin. Do not give aspirin to children under 12 years because of possible side effects 18.
    5. Excessive fatigue can increase the risk of infection 19. Rest helps with the recovery process.
    6. Reduce or stop smoking. Ask your Pharmacist about anti-smoking productsCunningham-J et al. Environmental tobacco smoke, wheezing, and asthma in children in 24 communities.; Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1996 Jan; 153(1): 218-24.
    7. Use an antibacterial handwash to prevent spreading the virus.
    8. Consider some nutritional supplements if the dietary vitamin intake is inadequate.
  • Notes


    1. Koda-Kimble M.A.&Young L.Y., (eds), Applied Therapeutics-The Clinical Use of Drugs (5th Ed) USA: Applied Therapeutics, 1992. p.17-17.
    2. Lowenstein SR, Parrino TA. Management of the common cold. Adv Intern Med 1989;32:207-33.
    3. Beers M et al (eds). The Merck manual of diagnosis and therapy (17th ed). New Jersey: Merck Research laboratories; 1999
    4. Monto AS. The common cold. JAMA 1994;271:112-4
    5. Beers M et al (eds). The Merck manual of diagnosis and therapy (17th ed). New Jersey: Merck Research laboratories; 1999
    6. Merck Manual Home Edition. Common Cold. [cited 2002 Oct 14]. Available from: URL:
    7. Takkouche B et al. A cohort study of stress and the common cold. Epidemiology 2001 May;12(3):345-9
    8. Bensenor IM et al. Active and passive smoking and risk of colds in women. Ann Epidemiol 2001 May;11(4):225-31
    9. Welsh D. 12 steps to stay healthy this winter. Universal Wellbeing 2001; 84:21-23.
    10. Sies-H; Stahl-W.Vit E and C, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants.Institut fur Phys Chemie I, Heinrich-Heine Uni Dusseldorf, Germany.Am-J-Clin-Nutr.1995 Dec.62(6 Suppl).
    11. Tchernychev-B; Rabinkov-A; Natural antibodies to dietary proteins; garlic (Allium sativum) in human serum.Immunol-Lett. 1995 Jul-Aug; 47(1-2): 53-7.
    12. Osiecki H. The Physicians Handbook of Clinical Nutrition. 1990. Bioconcepts. Aust.
    13. Davies, D & Stewart, S. (1987). Nutritional Medicine. Pan Books. London.p.68.
    14. Schulten B et al. Efficacy of Echinacea purpurea in patients with a common cold. A placebo-controlled, randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Arzneimittelforschung 2001;51(7):563-8.
    15. Newall C, et al. (1996). Herbal Medicines: A guide for Health-care Professionals. The Pharmaceutical Press: London.
    16. Grieve M. 1992 (reprint). A Modern Herbal. Cresset Press. London.
    17. Katcher-ML; Cold, cough, and allergy medications: uses and abuses.; Pediatr-Rev. 1996 Jan; 17(1): 12-7.
    18. Cooney-K; Paracetamol in childhood illness [letter]; Br-J-Gen-Pract. 1995 Aug; 45(397): 439-40.
    19. The Common Cold. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 16th Edition. 1992. USA.
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