Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Common Cold

More than 200 different types of viruses have been implicated to be able to cause common cold. Of all the viruses rhinovirus is the most common virus that cause common cold, which is also highly contagious (can spread from one infected person to another non infected person easily).

How common cold spread?

The mode of entry of common cold virus is usually by respiratory tract. When an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks, droplets containing virus are produced, which if inhaled by non infected person can lead to infection (which may or may not produce symptoms). Common cold virus may also spread by hand to hand contact with an infected person or by fomites (i.e. by sharing objects such as toys, towels, telephone, utensils etc. and by touching door handle which has been touched by an infected person). Due to the mode of spread, common cold tends to infect family members and inmates of school.

What are the risk factors of common cold?

  • Time of year: this is one of the most important risk factor. Winter and fall are seasons of common cold. During winter, people remain in indoor which may increase the risk of catching cold. In tropical areas common cold is more common during rainy season.
  • Immunity: common cold is more common during childhood. Because as age increase we get infected with common viruses that cause common cold and become immune to them. Hence older individuals have less frequent attacks of cold in compare to children, who are immune to lesser number of common cold viruses. Age is an important risk factor for common cold. Older people have lesser risk and younger people have higher risk of common cold. Children also tend to spend more time with same age group who all has higher risk. Children also do not wash hands after coughing and sneezing, which makes them more infectious.

What complications may arise due to common cold?

Common clod generally does not have complications. But sometimes common cold may lead to complications such as secondary infection, acute ear infection, sinusitis etc.

Secondary infection:

In presence of viral infection, the local immunity in nose, respiratory system and throat may not be normal and may lead to secondary bacterial infection such as streptococcal infection (streptococcal sore throat, which if not treated may lead to development of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease), pneumonia, bronchitis etc. These infections must be promptly treated by doctor with appropriate antibiotics.

Acute ear infection:

There is anatomical communication between nose and ear via Eustachian tube and infection (viral as well as secondary bacterial infection) may spread from nose to ear via Eustachian tube. Acute ear infection due to common cold is more common among children.

Sinusitis:

Sinusitis or inflammation/infection of sinuses may occur as a result of common cold, especially if symptoms last longer.

 

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