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The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). It’s usually harmless, although it might not feel that way. Many types of viruses can cause a common cold. Healthy adults can expect to have two or three colds each year. Infants and young children may have even more frequent colds. Most people recover from a common cold in a week or 10 days. Symptoms might last longer in people who smoke. Generally, you don’t need medical attention for a common cold.

Symptoms

Viruses cause colds and the flu. Both are respiratory infections. The simplest way to tell the difference is by looking at your symptoms. If you have a cold, you’ll probably have symptoms like these:

  • runny or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • cough
  • headache or body aches
  • mild tiredness

When to see a doctor

If you’re at risk of complications from the flu, call your doctor when you first have symptoms. People at risk of serious complications include:

  • Symptoms that last or get worse after 10 days.
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing.
  • High fever (greater than 102°F) for three or more days.
  • Pain or pressure in your chest.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Sudden dizziness or feeling faint.
  • Severe vomiting.

Causes

A cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks. It also spreads by hand-to-hand contact with someone who has a cold or by sharing contaminated objects, such as eating utensils, towels, toys or telephones. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after such contact, you’re likely to catch a cold.

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