A cold is a common viral infection of the upper respiratory tract—namely, your nose and throat. Americans “catch” an estimated one billion colds every year. Colds affect young children more often than adults. Most adults suffer from about two to four colds per year, yet children—preschoolers in particular—may experience up to six to 10 colds annually. Each year, children miss nearly 22 million school days because of the common cold. The common cold causes a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, and, in some cases, coughing and a sore throat. Colds can occur at any time during the year but are most common in the winter months.
Colds are spread through direct contact with a person infected by one of the common cold viruses, by contact with contaminated fingers, or through inhalation of contaminated fluid droplets that are spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs, speaks or wipes their nose. If you’re close by, you are at risk. Cold sufferers are most contagious during the first two to three days of a cold and stop being infectious between days seven and 10. Many surfaces and shared objects such as doorknobs, children’s toys, towels, kitchen utensils and phones may also contain cold virus particles. Touching an infected person or surface and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes means you’re likely to get a cold. To infect you, a cold virus needs to reach the mucus membrane, which is the moist, thin layer of tissue that lines the nose and mouth.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed by Sue Russell