Common cold

Synonyms: Nasopharyngitis, Acute viral nasopharyngitis

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine, Pediatrics

Clinical Definition

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, usually involving a sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Symptoms often last for up to two weeks. 

In Our Own Words

More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the common cold, but most often, it’s a rhinovirus. When the virus first infects the nose and sinuses, the body's response is to make clear mucus. After a few days, as the immune cells fight the virus, the previously clear mucus turns white or yellow and then green as the nose’s normal bacteria return.


Self-treatment includes resting, drinking plenty of fluids and taking non-prescription medicines to ease congestion, fever and pain. Medical help is needed for any sick infants younger than 3 months of age, as well as older children and adults if symptoms persist for more than 10 days or get worse after a week. Infants with fever and children with a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit also need medical attention.  

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Common Cold and Runny Nose." Updated May 2012. Accessed August 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Common Cold." Accessed August 2013.
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