Answers FAQ

Common Cold FAQs

Reviewed by Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

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Q:The common cold is the most frequently occurring illness worldwide. True or False?

A:True. The common cold is the most frequently occurring illness in the world, and it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work.

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Q:The common cold is caused by viruses. True or False?

A:True. Rhinovirus is the main virus responsible for cold, but more than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause the common cold.

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Q:Medically speaking, the common cold is an upper respiratory infection. True or False?

A:True. The common cold is medically referred to as a viral upper respiratory tract infection. Symptoms of the common cold may include cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, aches, and low-grade fever.

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Q:Cold weather carries cold germs more easily. True or False?

A:False. The common cold usually occurs in the fall and winter months, however, cold weather itself does not cause the common cold. Researchers believe that during cold-weather months, people spend more time indoors in close proximity to each other, thus facilitating the spread of cold viruses.

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Q:Cold symptoms usually begin within hours of infection by cold germs. True or False?

A:False. Typically, by the time you begin to feel cold symptoms, you've been infected for two to three days. This period of time is called the incubation period. Cold symptoms can last from four to 14 days, though many people can expect to improve within one week.

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Q:Contrary to popular belief, the common cold can be cured with antibiotics. True or False?

A:False. There is no cure for the common cold, and antibiotics play no role in treatment. Antibiotics are effective only against illnesses caused by bacteria, and colds are caused by viruses.

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Q:Who is least likely to get a cold?

A:People who exercise. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, several research studies show that people who exercise regularly have a significantly reduced number of respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, compared with those who don't exercise.

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Q:New cold viruses are constantly developing. True or False?

A:True. New cold viruses are constantly developing. For example, rhinovirus C was discovered only in 2007 and is now found worldwide.

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Q:The human body will build up resistance to most cold viruses over time. True or False?

A:False. Because some 200 different viruses can cause a cold, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. In addition, new cold virus strains are constantly developing. For these reasons, colds are a frequent and recurring problem.

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Q:Many people use zinc to treat colds, but what's the problem with zinc?

A:A recent review analyzing a series of clinical trials suggests that zinc may slightly reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold in otherwise healthy people, but the use of zinc lozenges was also associated with an increased risk of side effects such as nausea. Also, in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to stop using intranasal (in the nose) zinc products because some people reported a loss of smell after using these products.

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Q:Hand washing is one of the best possible ways to prevent colds. True or False?

A:True. Washing your hands with soap and water is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to keep from getting colds or giving them to others. During cold season, you should wash your hands often. Children should be taught to do the same. When water isn't available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using alcohol-based products made for disinfecting your hands.

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