Common cold viruses include rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, human parainfluenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus. Most resolve on their own with rest and over-the-counter medications.
The average adult gets a cold 2–4 times every year. One reason this mild type of infection is so common is that hundreds of viruses can lead to it.
More than 200 different viruses can cause a cold, and most of them are highly contagious. Rhinoviruses are the
In most cases, you can treat a common cold at home with rest and other home remedies, and most colds resolve after about a week.
This article reviews the most common types of colds, including their symptoms, stages, and duration.
More than 200 viruses can lead to the common cold. Here are the most common types:
According to the American Lung Association, 10–40% of all colds are caused by a rhinovirus. There are 100 types of rhinoviruses. They are highly contagious but generally very mild.
There are about six types of seasonal coronaviruses that can infect humans and cause illness.
Most types of coronavirus result in mild to moderate symptoms of respiratory infections known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
The best-known type of coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
HPIV is most likely to cause symptoms in young children and older adults, but anyone can become ill if they contract this common virus. Typically, people with HPIV have very similar symptoms to people with colds caused by rhinovirus, such as a sore throat, sneezing, and congestion.
Symptoms of HPIV are often mild and will resolve on their own with rest and over-the-counter (OTC) medication.
Adenoviruses are another common virus type that can lead to colds. There are about
Adenoviruses can also infect the lining of the eye and are often the virus responsible for conjunctivitis (pink eye).
RSV is a common virus that is very similar to rhinovirus. It spreads quickly and typically causes mild respiratory symptoms. It’s slightly more common in young children and people over 70 years old, but anyone can contract RSV and develop symptoms at any time.
It’s possible for RSV to progress to more serious infections, but you can typically treat it at home with rest and OTC medications.
Do you need to see a doctor for a cold?
Most colds are mild infections that will resolve on their own. Since colds are caused by viruses, they can’t be treated by antibiotics. Typically, unless you have cold symptoms that last for more than a week or get progressively worse, you don’t need to see a doctor.
The common cold often lasts for around 7 days, but it’s possible for symptoms to last for up to 14 days.
Symptoms typically develop on days 1–3. During this early stage of a cold, symptoms can include:
As your cold progresses, you might have additional symptoms. During days 4–7 (often called the active stage), you might have symptoms such as:
Children might also have a fever during the active stage.
Days 8–10 are called the late stage. Symptoms usually resolve by this stage, but you might still have a nagging cough or some lingering fatigue.
If you’re still experiencing other symptoms, it might be a good time to make a medical appointment.
RSV and a cold are very similar. It can be difficult to tell the two infections apart. Typically, infections caused by RSV are more likely to cause symptoms such as fever, wheezing, and difficulty eating.
Additionally, RSV is most active in the fall and winter, while the rhinovirus that causes colds is most active in the spring and summer.
The table below provides a symptom comparison.
|Common cold symptoms
Flu symptoms also tend to begin more suddenly. Most symptoms of colds and the flu overlap, although colds are more likely to cause congestion.
Diagnostic testing can help healthcare professionals tell the difference between a cold and the flu.
There are hundreds of viruses that can lead to the common cold. Rhinoviruses are the most common, but adenoviruses, coronaviruses, HPIV, and RSV can also cause mild upper respiratory infections.
Typically, you can manage a cold at home with rest and OTC medications. You don’t usually need to see a doctor when you have a cold.
If your symptoms are more severe, you might have the flu or another more serious infection. A healthcare professional can diagnose the infection and help you begin treatment.