Common cold


medical: Rhinitis English: Cold

  • Cooling
  • Sniffles
  • Influenza


The term cold is rather colloquially and medically not strictly delimited. Mostly the clinical picture of a cold includes an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and/or the throat with inflammatory swelling of the nasal mucous membranes and increased production of mucus and fluid. Cough-like symptoms (bronchitis) as well as headaches, aching limbs, sore throat and fever can also occur.

The common cold is one of the most common diseases in humans. On average, a person falls ill with a cold 3-4 times a year. The symptoms and the extent of the illness can vary in severity and duration. Children get a cold up to 15 times a year. A gender-specific difference in the frequency of the illness cannot be determined.


A cold can be caused by many different viruses. Cold temperatures and freezing alone are not enough to cause a disease, but they do promote it. If the body is hypothermic, the mucous membranes are less well supplied with blood and can offer less resistance to the pathogens.

Common triggers of a cold are for example adenoviruses. The infection is usually caused by droplet infection (by sneezing, coughing or speaking). When the pathogens are inhaled, they reach the mucous membranes, from where they can infect the respiratory tract.

Symptoms such as pharyngitis (inflammation of the throat), rhinitis or coughing occur after about 5 to 8 days. Infections with rhinoviruses are also very common. These occur mainly in spring and late summer, so that each person is infected about 4 times a year.

The transmission from person to person is either via droplet infection or via smear and contact infection. Here, transmission occurs either through direct physical contact as when shaking hands (contact infection) or by touching objects contaminated with bodily secretions such as saliva (used handkerchiefs, door handles, etc.). The pathogens then usually reach the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth via the hands.

Other pathogens are Parainfluenza, RS or Coxsackieviruses. Viruses that cause colds can be transmitted both by the so-called droplet infection and by a smear infection. Via droplets, in the form of breath via the air, the viruses can be transmitted quite quickly from one person to another and thus enter the body via inhalation.

A smear infection would be transmitted through contaminated materials (e.g. used handkerchiefs etc.). How quickly such an infection occurs and whether a pathogen has to remain in contact with humans for a long time or not until an infection is triggered is not yet fully understood. It is assumed, however, that the time required for infection is determined by the pathogen and the subtype.

Once the virus has entered the body, it attaches itself to the body’s own cells. Since the virus itself does not have mitochondria (power plants of the cell) that can produce proteins, it is dependent on foreign cells that help the virus to multiply. After attaching itself to the human cell, the virus injects its genetic material (nucleic acid) into the cell interior.

The genetic material is then reproduced by the human cell. The virus multiplies in the cell and then either dissolves the human cell, releasing the many new viruses, or is released if the cell wall is intact. In either case, however, the human cell is so disturbed by the reproduction process that corresponding symptoms of disease occur.

The newly formed viruses immediately infect further body cells, which leads to a very rapidly progressing snowball system in the human body. This topic might also be of interest to you: Incubation period in a coldCold colds are caused by viral pathogens and are usually highly contagious. It usually takes only one or two days from infection to the onset of the first symptoms, during which the infected person can already infect other people.

The infected person is probably most contagious in the first two to three days of the disease, although the risk of infection remains for about a week. Elderly people, children and people with a weakened immune system can also be contagious for longer. On the other hand, not everyone who comes into contact with the virus automatically develops symptoms.The viruses as triggers of the disease can be transmitted from one person’s mucous membranes to the next by droplet infection, i.e. sneezing, coughing or speaking, from where they infect the respiratory tract.

The other possibility of pathogen transmission is through smear and contact infection. In this case, transmission takes place either through direct physical contact, as when shaking hands (contact infection), or by touching objects contaminated with bodily secretions such as saliva (such as used handkerchiefs or door handles). In order to protect contact persons from infection, it is therefore advisable to sneeze and cough into a handkerchief to avoid spreading the virus in the room and to avoid physical contact such as shaking hands.

The most important hygiene measure is to wash your hands regularly. A cold usually manifests itself by scratching the throat, but this usually does not last longer than two to three days. It is also possible that a feeling of cold and shivering also occurs.

This is followed by the development of inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes (rhinitis) with running nose and sneezing. The symptoms known as rhinitis then reach their peak on the second day of the illness. After 4-5 days, headaches and aching limbs may occur, in some cases accompanied by fever up to about 38.5 degrees Celsius.

Those affected also frequently report a burning sensation in the nose. What could also be of interest to you in this regard: Scratching in the throat Most patients complain of fatigue and tiredness after a few days when the cold is fully developed. The inflammatory swelling of the nasal mucosa causes the ability to taste to disappear, depending on the severity of the inflammation, but this ability returns once the cold has subsided.

The average duration of the disease is about one week. In some cases the course of the disease is complicated. This includes a spread to the paranasal sinuses with resulting sinusitis, a spread to the bronchial tubes with bronchitis or a spread to the middle ear with resulting middle ear infection (otitis media).

In extreme cases, untreated sinusitis can also lead to sinus ulceration, which then has to be treated surgically with antibiotic medications or even in the case of a chronic course. Furthermore, pneumonia and laryngitis are further complicated but rare courses of a cold.

  • Symptoms of a cold
  • Why is the voice often gone when I have a cold?

A cold is usually a viral infection that only affects the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract.

Since the ear is connected to the pharynx via the so-called auditory tube, or tuba auditiva, an inflammation of the nasal and pharyngeal mucosa can also lead to impairment of the ear and its function. The consequence is usually an increased feeling of pressure in the ear or the feeling that the ear is closed. Either the mucosa in the throat area swells during a cold, so that the access to the middle ear, i.e. the auditory trumpet, is also affected and the ventilation of the ear no longer functions as usual.

As a result, the eardrum can no longer vibrate adequately and the transmission of sounds is reduced. This is especially the case if you regularly have problems with tube ventilation anyway and are more susceptible to this. Alternatively, middle ear inflammation can be caused by restricted drainage via the auditory tube on the one hand and a bacterial superinfection on the other.

Nose drops can often help not only to prevent swelling of the nasal mucosa, but also to minimize the region where the tuba auditiva is located. Then the ear is no longer closed and both eardrum and drainage function normally again. If there is severe ear pain and no improvement of the symptoms, a doctor should be consulted to clarify bacterial colonization and possible antibiotic treatment.