Although most colds go away on their own and don’t warrant a visit to the doctor, in some cases the common cold can cause a health complication like, on occasion, bronchitis, pneumonia, an ear infection, sinusitis or asthma. The viruses behind the common cold can cause more severe complications in children, including ear infections.
A child may develop croup from a common cold. And the common cold is the predominant trigger of asthma symptoms for children and adults with asthma.
Acute Ear Infection (Otitis Media)
Ear infection is a frequent complication of the common cold in children. There can be fluid build-up and congestion in the ear drum. When bacteria or the cold virus infiltrates the usually air-filled space behind the eardrum (the middle ear), the result is an ear infection, which typically causes an extremely painful earache. A very young child who cannot verbalize what they are going through may cry or sleep poorly. A child with an ear infection also might have a green or yellow nasal discharge, and sometimes a recurrence of a fever after a common cold.
This is an infection of the sinuses and nasal passages accompanied by inflammation and pain. It can develop when a common cold persists because blocked sinuses trap bacteria or viruses in the nasal mucus and germs grow very fast causing infection and inflammation. Sinusitis is a common complication marked by facial pain, bad headaches and sinus pain as well as fever, cough, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, a feeling of fullness in the ears, and bad breath. Bathe nasal passages using a Neti pot or other small pot or squeeze bottle. Inhaling steam can also bring relief. Pour boiling water into a bowl or pan, then bend over it with a towel over your head and inhale the steam. Or try a hot shower. Acute sinusitis can last for up to four weeks and chronic sinusitis for up to three months. You may require antibiotics. Check with your physician.
Some asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, can be triggered in a child or adult by a common cold.
Other Medical Complications
Strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis, pneumonia, and bronchitis are other possible complications that can arise from the common cold.
Sleep is often affected by the common cold. Symptoms like a runny nose, nasal congestion, or a cough are often very uncomfortable and can make it hard to breathe. This can keep you from getting enough sleep to function properly during the day.
Physical activity can be difficult if you have a cold. Vigorous exercise can be especially challenging with nasal congestion making breathing difficult. Stick to gentle forms of exercise like walking so you can stay active without overexerting yourself.