There's no silver bullet to cure the common cold

Your Health Matters

Often misunderstood, the common cold is attributed to more than 200 different types of viruses, with a third of colds linked to the rhinovirus.

While there is no silver bullet for the common cold, Lucy Folino, D.O., primary-care physician with Meritus Urgent Care, explains why knowledge and patience could save you time and money this cold season.

Demystifying colds

A cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. Adults can expect two to three colds a year and children can contract five to seven colds, Folino said.

The cold is spread through droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus remains on surfaces for 48 hours and is easily transmitted by hand-to-hand contact and when you touch your eyes, mouth or nose.

Symptoms include:

• Runny or stuffy nose

• Sore throat

• Cough

• Congestion

• Slight body aches or a mild headache

• Sneezing

• Low-grade fever

• Feeling unwell and tired

Symptoms develop two to three days after the virus is contracted, and the illness can last anywhere from seven to 10 days. Your body is capable of fighting the infection, but it takes time.


The biggest misconception of a cold is that it can be cured with antibiotics. The cold is a viral infection, and antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viruses.

Folino emphasizes that taking antibiotics unnecessarily can disrupt your gut flora, which aid in digestion, and misusing antibiotics increases the risk that bacteria will develop drug resistance.

Folino notes another misconception. The yellow or greenish discharge from your nose is a sign of a bacterial infection. In reality, the discharge is an indicator that the cold is running its course.

It also is not unusual for a cough to persist weeks after other cold symptoms have passed. Folino suggests using honey or maple syrup to calm a cough.


The best way to treat a cold is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. To address body aches and fever, Folino recommends taking ibuprofen every six hours and acetaminophen in between doses, but make sure to follow label directions. Chicken soup and other warm liquids help loosen congestion, as does a cool-mist humidifier.

People with weakened immune systems are more prone to catching colds and should see a health care provider soon after symptoms develop. But for most healthy children and adults, there is little need to see a health care provider for the common cold.

People should see a health care provider if they have one of the following conditions:

• Symptoms lasting longer than 10 days

• Sore throat only or swollen glands, which might be a sign of strep throat

• Fever greater than 102 degrees

• Facial pain and a high fever

Recovering from a cold takes time, but the good news is that you won’t catch the same cold virus twice.

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of different cold viruses lurking about — even during peak flu season — so wash your hands frequently, avoid close contact with anyone who has a cold — and always cover your coughs and sneezes.