Common cold (Coryza): causes, spread, symptoms, complications, treatment

Definition: Common cold is an acute non-specific viral rhinitis caused by rhinoviruses of more than 100 different types. It affects the upper respiratory system and it is also known as "acute coryza" or acute viral rhinopharyngitis. It is the most common infectious disease in humans.

Predisposing factors:
  • Overcrowdings especially in badly ventilated areas.
  • Exposure to cold and temperature changes.
  • Lowered immunity.
Mode of spread: Droplet infection.

Clinical picture (symptoms and signs)

- The incubation period is 1 – 3 days.
- The disease passes in the following stages:
a) Stage of ischemia (vasoconstriction):
  • There is burning sensation, dryness of the nose and sneezing.
  • Generalized bony aches.
b) Stage of congestion (vasodilatation and secretion):
  • Low grade fever, headache, anorexia and malaise.
  • Nasal obstruction.
  • Excessive watery nasal discharge.
  • There may be cough.
  • It lasts about 3 – 5 days, and recovery may occur after this stage.
c) Stage of secondary bacterial infection (suppurative rhinitis):
Due to secondary bacterial infection specially staphylococcus, streptococcus pneumoniae and hemophilus influenza. It may last up to 2 weeks, showing:
  • Increased constitutional manifestations with high fever.
  • Nasal obstruction.
  • Nasal discharge which becomes thick and mucoid, then mucopurulent and purulent.
  • Diminished taste and smell sensations.
d) Stage of resolution:
During which recovery occurs within 3 – 5 days.

On examination:

  • Stage (a): nasal mucosa is pale and dry.
  • Stage (b): nasal mucosa is red, congested and edematous.
  • Stage (c): nasal mucosa is dusky red with a bluish tinge; discharge becomes thicker, mucopurulent or purulent.
Redness of the nostrils and upper lip may be present due to sniffing and repeated nose blowing.

Complications of Coryza:

  • Sinusitis
  • Pharyngitis 
  • Otitis media 
  • Laryngitis
  • Laryngotracheobronchitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Permanent anosmia.

Treatment of common cold

a) Prophylactic:

  1. Avoid overcrowdings, exposure to cold or temperature changes.
  2. Avoid contact with patients, avoid using patient towels.
  3. Vaccination: Several vaccines have been developed but of doubtful effect due to the very large number of rhinoviruses and continuous viral mutation.

b) Curative:

  1. Bed rest, light diet, adequate fluids. 
  2. Analgesics and antipyretics.
  3. Systemic antibiotics only if secondary bacterial infection.
  4. Oral decongestants and antihistaminics. 
  5. Vitamin C, and Steam inhalation.
Common cold (Coryza): causes, spread, symptoms, complications, treatment
Dr.Tamer Mobarak


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