Sneezing, scratchy throat, runny nose — everyone knows the first miserable signs of a common cold. More severe symptoms, such as high fever or muscle aches, may indicate you have the flu rather than a cold. As there are more than 100 viruses that cause a common cold, signs and symptoms tend to vary greatly.

The common cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract — your nose and throat. A common cold is usually harmless, although it may not feel that way at the time. Pre-school children are at greatest risk of frequent colds, but even healthy adults can expect to have a few colds each year.


The Science


You can catch a common cold from another person who is infected with the virus. This usually happens by touching a surface contaminated with cold germs — a computer keyboard, doorknob, or eating utensil, for example — and then touching your nose or mouth. You can also catch a cold by encountering the stuff someone with a cold has sneezed into the air.


Being cold or wet are not actual causes of the common cold, however there are factors that make you more susceptible to catching a cold virus. If you are excessively fatigued, have emotional distress or suffer from allergies with nose and throat symptoms, then you are more likely to catch a cold.


While most colds last about seven to 10 days, if your symptoms linger, you may need to call the doctor. Sometimes, common colds can lead to bacterial infections in your lungs, sinuses or ears that require medical treatment such as antibiotics.


When to See a Doctor: Adults


Seek medical attention if you have:


— Fever of 102˚F (39.0˚ C) or higher

— Fever accompanied by sweating, chills and a cough with coloured phlegm

— Significantly swollen glands

— Severe sinus pain


For Children


In general, children get sicker from the common cold than adults do and often develop complications, such as ear infections. Your child doesn’t need to see the doctor for a routine common cold. But seek medical attention right away if your child has any of the following symptoms:


— Fever of 100.4˚ F (38˚C) in newborns up to 12 weeks

— Fever that rises above 104˚ F (40˚C) in a child of any age

— Signs of dehydration, such as urinating less often than usual

— Not drinking adequate fluids

— Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child younger than 2

— Fever that lasts more than three days in a child older than 2

— Vomiting or abdominal pain

— Unusual sleepiness

— Severe headache

— Stiff neck

— Difficulty breathing

— Persistent crying

— Ear pain

— Persistent cough


Dr. Brian McNaull is Medical Director at Family Medical Practice, which is located in Vietnam’s major cities. For information or assistance call (04) 3843 0748 (Hanoi), (08) 3822 7848 (Ho Chi Minh City) or (0511) 3582 699 (Danang). Alternatively, click on

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