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Colds are infections of the upper respiratory tract, usually affecting the nose, throat, larynx or trachea. The most common acute forms are acute nasopharyngitis, acute sinusitis, acute pharyngitis, acute tonsillitis, acute laryngitis and epiglottitis. The cause of colds is viruses. About 200 subtypes of viruses causing colds are known, the most common is rhinovirus. Coronaviruses, influenza viruses, respiratory syncytial viruses, parainfluenza viruses, adenoviruses and enteroviruses are next in frequency of infection.


The main symptoms of colds are runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat and coughing. The upper respiratory tract, including the nose, throat and larynx, is mainly affected. In colds, infants and children are more likely than adults to have a fever and symptoms of fever. One to two days after the sore throat, malaise, and fever appear, a runny nose, stuffy nose, cough, and a sore, dry mouth and foreign body sensation in the throat may appear. A runny nose and stuffy nose force the patient to breathe through the mouth, resulting in a dry and swollen throat. The tonsils become inflamed during colds (tonsillitis). Tonsillitis may cause symptoms such as fever, difficulty swallowing, and shortness of breath. The condition worsens 2-3 days after the first symptoms appear, the symptoms become more pronounced, but most of them disappear after about a week. In some patients, symptoms may persist for up to two weeks even with treatment. In patients of different age categories infected with the same type of virus, the course of the disease differs. For example, parainfluenza viruses and respiratory syncytial virus, which cause severe viral pneumonia, acute obstructive laryngitis (croup) and bronchiolitis in children, cause only cold symptoms in adults.


The most common upper respiratory tract infections are easily diagnosed based on clinical symptoms, with little laboratory testing. However, for high-risk patients, additional diagnostic tests such as blood tests and microbiological analysis of the pharyngeal swab (pharyngeal microflora culture) are better. Because cold-causing viruses present different clinical symptoms, it is difficult to immediately identify the specific causative virus based on these symptoms alone. The methods for identifying the cold-causing virus include virus culture, antigen testing and PCR testing.

Treatment and course of the disease

The incubation period of colds depends on the type of virus. For rhinovirus, it is about 2 days, with serious symptoms usually appearing on days 1-3 and persisting for 7-10 days. The viruses travel to the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth, which are spread by coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. The hands are also one of the most common routes of transmission, so personal hygiene of the patient, including, hand hygiene, plays a big role in colds. Upper respiratory tract infections are usually treated symptomatically with medication. In most cases, the disease goes away on its own, but against the background of a cold infection, there is a risk of secondary bacterial infections due to problems with secretion or due to a decrease in the protective properties of the healthy microflora of the upper respiratory tract. Only when secondary bacterial infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia, otitis media, viral infections with symptoms such as sore throat, sinusitis, etc. are detected should antibiotic treatment be prescribed.

The medication of colds includes prescription of specific drugs to alleviate the symptoms of colds – cough suppressants, antitussives, expectorants, antihistamines, mucolytics, anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics.


The symptoms of a cold usually disappear by themselves over time and healing occurs naturally, but the patient may contract a secondary bacterial infection. In such cases, there is a high risk of complications such as asthma exacerbation or infection of the lower respiratory tract. The most common complications of colds include bacterial sinusitis, meningitis, otitis media, bronchitis and pneumonia.

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