The Common Cold and Flu

The common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract including the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways. It is one of the most widespread contagious diseases, caused by various viruses, especially rhinoviruses, which are spread through the following:

– Airborne droplets released through an infected person’s coughing, sneezing or speaking.

– Direct physical contact with an infected person, like touching their hands.

– Touching contaminated surfaces then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

– Sharing contaminated objects like dishes, towels, toys or phones.

Risk Factors

– Age: Infants and young children are more likely to catch colds than other people.

– Weakened immunity: a compromised immunity or chronic illness increases the risk of infection.

– Season: while they can happen anytime, colds occur more commonly during autumn and winter.

– Smoking: smoking or secondhand smoke increases the likelihood of catching colds.

– Crowding: close contact at large gatherings like schools or aeroplanes can also lead to the spread of cold.


Cold symptoms can resemble allergies, sinusitis and influenza. Most adults catch 2 to 3 colds on average annually, while infants and children get them more often.

Symptoms usually start 1-3 days after exposure to the cold virus and can vary, however sore throat and runny or blocked nose usually come first, followed by:

– Coughing and sneezing

– Headache

– Fatigue and body aches

– Mild fever

– Runny or stuffy nose

Most people recover in 7-10 days but symptoms last longer in smokers. Seek medical assistance if symptoms worsen or you have a high fever or breathing difficulties.


– Ear infection

– Sinusitis

– Lung infections like pneumonia or bronchitis, are more likely in people with asthma or weakened immunity.


Colds are diagnosed by doctors who ask about the patient’s medical history, exposure to cold weather or rain or contact with a recently infected person, and they can request swabs or influenza tests.

Many people think seasonal flu is just a severe cold but both are contagious respiratory illnesses with overlapping symptoms. However, colds generally have less severe symptoms and complications than influenza.


While there’s no vaccine for colds, the following prevention measures reduce the risk of infection and spread:

– Wash and sanitise your hands regularly, especially before touching your eyes, nose, mouth and food, after toilet use.

– Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing using tissues then dispose of them immediately to prevent airborne droplets from spreading the virus. If unavailable, cough or sneeze into your elbow.

– Disinfect surfaces regularly including doorknobs, light switches, electronics, kitchen areas and toilets to eliminate germs.

– Avoid sharing personal items if infected, especially drinking cups and utensils.

– Avoid crowded places when possible. If infected, avoid close contact with others.

– Keep children with colds home from school.

– Eat healthy food, exercise regularly and get adequate sleep to boost your overall immunity.

– Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and replace the fluids lost through fever and mucus production.

– Don’t take antibiotics without consulting a doctor.

– Though no vaccine exists for colds, getting the seasonal flu shot reduces the risk of influenza infection and the severity of symptoms and complications.

By: Dr. Badreyya Al-Harmi, Consultant Public Health, Emirates Public Health Association

Al Jundi

Please use portrait mode to get the best view.