Common Sense for the Common Cold

Common Sense for the Common Cold


Viral rhinitis. Watery rhinorrhea. The ubiquitous common cold apparently is not “common” for nothing. Over 200 different viruses can cause what are technically known as upper-respiratory-tract infections, the more common of which are the rhino and adenovirus types, and are responsible for as many as half of all short-term illnesses. They cause coughing, headache, nasal congestion with watery discharges, sneezing, and a scratchy throat with fever, aches, and pains that are typical of viral infections.

Although everyone catches a cold, children, especially those six years old and younger, are most susceptible to it.

b11Cough and cold seldom trigger a rush to the emergency room or a call to a doctor in the middle of the night. A physician, however, should evaluate a healthy child with a common cold when the following symptoms are present: dehydration, vomiting, abdominal pain, persistent irritability, unusual sleepiness or irritability, severe headache, difficulty breathing or swallowing, swollen glands, high-grade fever and chills (>103˚F or 40˚C for three days), blue lips, skin rash, earache.

Lingering cold symptoms may be an indication of a more serious ailment such as sinusitis, secondary bacterial infection such as streptococcal pneumonia, chickenpox, allergies, or even an exacerbation of asthma that will not go away without treatment.

Worrisome Complications

Decreased resistance and mucus in the airway during cold provide fertile breeding ground for bacteria to build up over a few days. Secondary bacterial infection is suggested by a change in the color yellow or green. The sinuses, ears, or lungs may be infected with Streptococcus pneumonia, Hemophilus influenza, Staphylococcus aureus, and Moraxella catarrhalis. Treatment requires appropriate antibiotics and medical attention.

Ear Infection

A sensation of plugged ears with ear pain occurs in acute otitis media, when there is bacterial infection of the middle-ear space behind the eardrum. Fluid and mucus accumulate in the auditory tube, especially in children because they have narrower and more horizontal tubes than adults.

Sinus Infections

Swelling causes obstruction of a sinus drainage tract, resulting in accumulation of mucous secretions that become infected by bacteria. Sinusitis, occurs when pus accumulates in the sinus, giving rise to greenish nasal discharge (>10 days) with sinus headaches.


Although productive cough is usually part of the cold spectrum, some signs may herald the onset of bacterial bronchitis when associated with productive cough: fever for more than five days and chest pains associated with coughing, rapid breathing, and wheezing.


It is important to clear the airway of mucus to prevent bacterial growth in the lungs. Some signs that the simple cough and cold may have invaded the lungs and developed into pneumonia: fever for more than five days, shortness of breath or labored breathing with rib retraction, chest pain, bluish discoloration of the lips, and unusually sick look.

For the most part, the discomfort posed by the common cold will not vanish overnight; buts must be allowed to run its course. It is self-limiting, and complications are avoided or identified early with patient education and prompt medical attention.


– Roger R. Badillo II, MD – Medical Observer