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Common Cold

The common cold is one of the most frequent illnesses in the United States, and usually occurs in the Winter and Spring months. The common cold is caused by viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza, and adenoviruses, that get into your nose, throat, or airways. 

How the Common Cold is Spread

Colds are primarily transmitted from person to person from hands contaminated with nasal secretions. Less often, viruses that cause colds can be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface or by sneezing or coughing.

Signs and Symptoms of the Common Cold

Common Cold symptoms usually come on over a few days. People will often feel some or many of these symptoms:

  • Sore throat, short duration
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing, can occur on days 4-5
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Body aches

If you have cold symptoms:

  • Most people with the Common Cold have mild illness and do not need medical care
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Use tissues to contain respiratory secretions
  • Perform hand hygiene (e.g., handwashing with non-antimicrobial soap and water, and alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available)
  • If you get sick with Common Cold symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care
  • If you cannot stay home when ill, wear a mask in public places when there is close contact with others

How long will I be sick?

The average adult experiences two to three colds per year with last from 3 to 7 days, but some people have symptoms for up to 2 weeks. Symptoms might last longer in people who smoke. Learn more about self-care here.

If you have symptoms of Common Cold and are in a high-risk group (people with certain medical conditions) or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider or call UHS at 513-556-2564 for an appointment.

Note: Please defer to UC Campus Covid Isolation Guidelines regarding COVID testing requirements when ill.

When should I return to class?

You may return to class when you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medications, and your symptoms are improving.

How can I tell if I have environmental allergies or the Common Cold?

Seasonal allergies usually present with an acute onset of sneezing, rhinorrhea, nasal congestion, nasal itching, postnasal drip, cough, irritability, and fatigue which is reproducible from year to year. Allergies caused by tree and grass pollen typically occur in the spring and summer, and symptoms caused by ragweed pollen exposure occur in the fall, although there are regional variations.

Some cases of allergies can be diagnosed if there is an obvious connection between exposure and the onset of symptoms, such as after being exposed to an animal.

Year-round allergies can occur from indoor allergen exposure such as dust mites, cockroaches, or animal dander.

Is Cincinnati considered an allergy capital?

Yes, Cincinnati ranks 70th out of the top 100 US Allergy Capitals. The individual factors analyzed for the 2022 rankings are seasonal pollen scores (spring and fall), over-the-counter medication use (allergy), and number of allergy specialists.

How can I reduce allergen exposure?

  • Keep windows closed during pollen season or peak pollen times
  • Wear sunglasses, a mask, and a hat or other hair covering when outdoors
  • Take a shower, and if your hair was uncovered outside, wash it before bed
  • Change and wash clothes after outdoor activities
  • Dry laundry in a clothes dryer or on an indoor rack, not on an outdoor line
  • Limit close contact with pets that spend a lot of time outdoors and wipe pets off with a towel
  • Remove your shoes before entering your home
  • Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week

How are allergies from mold different from common season allergies?

Allergic fungal rhinosinusitis (AFRS) only occurs in 5 to 10% of those with chronic allergy symptoms. It is an inflammatory condition that lasts 12 weeks or longer involving the linings of the nose, from a localized allergic reaction to noninvasive fungal growth, in areas of compromised mucus drainage. AFRS occurs worldwide, although most published reports are from the southern United States.

For more information, please visit CDC: Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others.

Contact Us

University Health Services

Richard E. Lindner Center
2751 O'Varsity Way, 3rd Floor
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0010

Mail Location: 0769
Phone: 513-556-2564
Fax: 513-556-1337