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Common Cold

Common Cold

What is a Cold?


Colds, or upper respiratory tract infections, are the most common cause of illness in children and adults. Most colds and coughs are caused by a virus – in fact there are over 200 types of viruses1 that can cause the common cold (which is why it's not possible to be immunised against a cold).

Coughs and colds are more common in the winter months. Cold weather by itself does not increase the chance of getting colds, but people are in closer contact because they stay indoors and are more likely to infect each other. The viruses which cause colds are spread by sneezing, coughing and hand contact.

Cold Symptoms

Symptoms of colds can be combinations of:

  • A stuffy or runny nose

  • Sore or scratchy throat

  • Red eyes

  • Swelling of lymph glands

  • Fever (occasionally)

Often there will be loss of appetite, and sometimes nausea and some vomiting.

Actual cold symptoms will vary from person to person, and from illness to illness. Usually cold symptoms will last anywhere from a few days to a week or more,
and the person recovers fully without any further complications.

Preventing Colds

While there are things you can do to help prevent colds there is no cure. Antibiotics are not effective against the common cold – they treat bacterial infections, not viral ones.

While getting adequate rest and fluids is the most important way to assist your body
to ward off and manage colds, good nutrition can also help.

Children's Colds

Colds are the most common illness amongst children of all ages. Because their immune systems are still developing, younger children are more likely to be affected than older children. Statistics show children catch between six and 12 colds per year; with those in day care and kindergarten at the higher end of the scale.2

Except for newborns, colds in healthy children are not dangerous. Colds usually go away in four to 10 days without any special treatment. Because of the great number of viruses that can cause colds and because new cold viruses develop, children can never build up resistance against all cold viruses.

Sometimes fatigue, stress, or the type of cold virus may promote a bacterial infection somewhere in a child's body, such as the lungs, throat, ears, or sinuses. The bacterial infection weakens the body's immune system and requires treatment with an antibiotic.


Symptoms of Children's Colds

With children, most colds begin abruptly. Your child may wake up with symptoms of watery nasal mucus, sneezing, fatigue, and sometimes fever. Your child mayalso have a sore throat and a cough; symptoms that are common in children's colds. The cold virus can affect your child's sinuses, throat, bronchial tubes, and ears. Children with a cold, may also have diarrhoea and vomiting.

During the early stages of a cold, your child may be very irritable and complain of a headache and congestion. As the cold progresses, the mucus secretions from the sinuses may turn darker and thicker. Your child may also develop a mild cough, which could last for several days.

Note: Croup often begins like a normal cold followed by a harsh, barking cough.

Managing Children's Colds


Colds are self-limiting. They usually go away on their own without any special medical treatment, however there are things you can do at home to help ease the symptoms:

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest

  • Give your child plenty of liquids

  • Use a steam vaporiser in your child's bedroom at night. The humid environment
    will help to keep your child's nose and chest clear, making it easier to breathe

Use children's paracetamol or ibuprofen to help lower fever if the child
is particularly distressed

Cough mixtures, antihistamines and other cold and flu medications are generally
not suitable for children and must only be taken on advice of your doctor.

When to see the Doctor

Consult your healthcare professional for your child's cold if:

  • Your baby is less than six months old

  • Your child does not seem to be getting better after three to four days

  • Your child complains of stiffness, has a very high fever, shakes, chills or has extreme fatigue - these are symptoms of flu and need to be checked by a doctor

  • If your child has asthma, diabetes or other chronic health condition



1. Better Health Channel, Victorian Government

2. National Prescribing Service (NPS) and Web MD