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Common Cold

What is the common cold?

The common cold is a mild infection of your upper respiratory tract (which includes your nose and throat). Colds are probably the most common illness. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more. Colds are more common in the winter and spring, but you can get them at any time.

What causes the common cold?

More than 200 different viruses can cause a cold, but rhinoviruses are the most common type. The viruses that cause colds are very contagious. They can spread from person to person through the air and close personal contact. You can also get infected when you touch something that has the virus on it and then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose. For example, you could get a cold after you shake hands with someone who has a cold or touch a doorknob that has the germs on it, and then touch your face.

What are the symptoms of the common cold?

The symptoms of a common cold usually include:

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose (congestion)
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Headache

The symptoms usually start a few days after you become infected with the virus. Some symptoms can last for 10-14 days.

What are the treatments for the common cold?

There is no cure for the common cold. But there are treatments that can make you feel better while you wait for the cold to go away on its own:

  • Getting lots of rest.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Using a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer.
  • Gargling with warm salt water.
  • Using saline nose drops or sprays.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain or cold and cough medicines. But you need to be careful with certain medicines:
    • Children and teens should not take aspirin.
    • Some cold and cough medicines contain ingredients that are not recommended for children. Talk with your child's health care provider before giving your child any cold and cough medicines.
    • Some cold and cough medicines contain pain relievers. If you also take a separate pain reliever with these medicines, you could be getting a dangerous amount of the pain reliever. Read the labels on the medicines and follow the instructions carefully. If you have questions, ask your provider or a pharmacist.

Antibiotics will not help with a cold. Antibiotics help with bacterial infections, not with viral infections such as colds.

Most people who have a cold will feel better after a week or two. However, some people who get a cold may develop other illnesses, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. This is more common in people with weakened immune systems, asthma, or other respiratory conditions. Contact your provider if you or your child have symptoms that concern you, such as:

  • Trouble breathing or fast breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Fever that lasts longer than 4 days
  • Symptoms that last more than 10 days without improvement
  • Symptoms, such as fever or cough, that improve but then return or worsen
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions
Can the common cold be prevented?

There is no vaccine to protect against the common cold. But you may be able to reduce your risk of getting or spreading a cold by:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoiding touching your face, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others if you are sick or they are sick.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that you frequently touch.
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Then throw away the tissue and wash your hands.
  • Staying home when sick.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Pneumonia

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. It causes the air sacs of the lungs to fill up with fluid or pus. It can range from mild to severe, depending on the type of germ causing the infection, your age, and your overall health.

What causes pneumonia?

Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can cause pneumonia.

Bacteria are the most common cause. Bacterial pneumonia can occur on its own. It can also develop after you've had certain viral infections such as a cold or the flu. Several different types of bacteria can cause pneumonia, including:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Legionella pneumophila; this pneumonia is often called Legionnaires' disease
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Chlamydia pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae

Viruses that infect the respiratory tract may cause pneumonia. Viral pneumonia is often mild and goes away on its own within a few weeks. But sometimes it is serious enough that you need to get treatment in a hospital. If you have viral pneumonia, you are at risk of also getting bacterial pneumonia. The different viruses that can cause pneumonia include:

  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Some common cold and flu viruses
  • SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19

Fungal pneumonia is more common in people who have chronic health problems or weakened immune systems. Some of the types include:

  • Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP)
  • Coccidioidomycosis, which causes valley fever
  • Histoplasmosis
  • Cryptococcus
Who is at risk for pneumonia?

Anyone can get pneumonia, but certain factors can increase your risk:

  • Age; the risk is higher for children who are age 2 and under and adults age 65 and older
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, pollutants, or toxic fumes
  • Lifestyle habits, such as smoking, heavy alcohol use, and malnourishment
  • Being in a hospital, especially if you are in the ICU. Being sedated and/or on a ventilator raises the risk even more.
  • Having a lung disease
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Have trouble coughing or swallowing, from a stroke or other condition
  • Recently being sick with a cold or the flu
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

The symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to severe and include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough, usually with phlegm (a slimy substance from deep in your lungs)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain when you breathe or cough
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The symptoms can vary for different groups. Newborns and infants may not show any signs of the infection. Others may vomit and have a fever and cough. They might seem sick, with no energy, or be restless.

Older adults and people who have serious illnesses or weak immune systems may have fewer and milder symptoms. They may even have a lower than normal temperature. Older adults who have pneumonia sometimes have sudden changes in mental awareness.

What other problems can pneumonia cause?

Sometimes pneumonia can cause serious complications such as:

  • Bacteremia, which happens when the bacteria move into the bloodstream. It is serious and can lead to septic shock.
  • Lung abscesses, which are collections of pus in cavities of the lungs
  • Pleural disorders, which are conditions that affect the pleura. The pleura is the tissue that covers the outside of the lungs and lines the inside of your chest cavity.
  • Kidney failure
  • Respiratory failure
How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Sometimes pneumonia can be hard to diagnose. This is because it can cause some of the same symptoms as a cold or the flu. It may take time for you to realize that you have a more serious condition.

Your health care provider may use many tools to make a diagnosis:

  • A medical history, which includes asking about your symptoms
  • A physical exam, including listening to your lungs with a stethoscope
  • Various tests, such as
    • A chest x-ray
    • Blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) to see if your immune system is actively fighting an infection
    • A Blood culture to find out whether you have a bacterial infection that has spread to your bloodstream

If you are in the hospital, have serious symptoms, are older, or have other health problems, you may also have more tests, such as:

  • Sputum test, which checks for bacteria in a sample of your sputum (spit) or phlegm (slimy substance from deep in your lungs).
  • Chest CT scan to see how much of your lungs is affected. It may also show if you have complications such as lung abscesses or pleural effusions.
  • Pleural fluid culture, which checks for bacteria in a fluid sample that was taken from the pleural space
  • Pulse oximetry or blood oxygen level test, to check how much oxygen is in your blood
  • Bronchoscopy, a procedure used to look inside your lungs' airways
What are the treatments for pneumonia?

Treatment for pneumonia depends on the type of pneumonia, which germ is causing it, and how severe it is:

  • Antibiotics treat bacterial pneumonia and some types of fungal pneumonia. They do not work for viral pneumonia.
  • In some cases, your provider may prescribe antiviral medicines for viral pneumonia
  • Antifungal medicines treat other types of fungal pneumonia

You may need to be treated in a hospital if your symptoms are severe or if you are at risk for complications. While there, you may get additional treatments. For example, if your blood oxygen level is low, you may receive oxygen therapy.

It may take time to recover from pneumonia. Some people feel better within a week. For other people, it can take a month or more.

Can pneumonia be prevented?

Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria or the flu virus. Having good hygiene, not smoking, and having a healthy lifestyle may also help prevent pneumonia.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Infections and Pregnancy

During pregnancy, some common infections like the common cold or a skin infection do not usually cause serious problems. But other infections can be dangerous to you, your baby, or both. Some infections may lead to preterm birth and low birth weight babies. Others can cause serious illness, birth defects, and lifelong disabilities, such as hearing loss or learning problems.

Some of the infections that can be dangerous during pregnancy include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
  • Group B strep (GBS)
  • Hepatitis
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Yeast infections
  • Zika virus

To try to prevent infections:

  • Don't eat raw or undercooked meat.
  • Don't share food or drinks with other people.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Don't empty cat litter. Cats can transmit toxoplasmosis.
  • Talk to your health care provider about vaccinations.
  • If you have sex during pregnancy, use a condom every time.

If you do get an infection during pregnancy, contact your health care provider about how best to protect you and your baby. Only some medicines are safe during pregnancy.

Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic (long-term) lung disease. It affects your airways, the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. When you have asthma, your airways can become inflamed and narrowed. This can cause wheezing, coughing, and tightness in your chest. When these symptoms get worse than usual, it is called an asthma attack or flare-up.

What causes asthma?

The exact cause of asthma is unknown. Genetics and your environment likely play a role in who gets asthma.

An asthma attack can happen when you are exposed to an asthma trigger. An asthma trigger is something that can set off or worsen your asthma symptoms. Different triggers can cause different types of asthma:

  • Allergic asthma is caused by allergens. Allergens are substances that cause an allergic reaction. They can include
    • Dust mites
    • Mold
    • Pets
    • Pollen from grass, trees, and weeds
    • Waste from pests such as cockroaches and mice
  • Nonallergic asthma is caused by triggers that are not allergens, such as
    • Breathing in cold air
    • Certain medicines
    • Household chemicals
    • Infections such as colds and the flu
    • Outdoor air pollution
    • Tobacco smoke
  • Occupational asthma is caused by breathing in chemicals or industrial dusts at work
  • Exercise-induced asthma happens during physical exercise, especially when the air is dry

Asthma triggers may be different for each person and can change over time.

Who is at risk for asthma?

Asthma affects people of all ages, but it often starts during childhood. Certain factors can raise your risk of having asthma:

  • Being exposed to secondhand smoke when your mother is pregnant with you or when you are a small child
  • Being exposed to certain substances at work, such as chemical irritants or industrial dusts
  • Genetics and family history. You are more likely to have asthma if one of your parents has it, especially if it's your mother.
  • Race or ethnicity. Black and African Americans and Puerto Ricans are at higher risk of asthma than people of other races or ethnicities.
  • Having other diseases or conditions such as obesity and allergies
  • Often having viral respiratory infections as a young child
  • Sex. In children, asthma is more common in boys. In teens and adults, it is more common in women.
What are the symptoms of asthma?

The symptoms of asthma include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing, especially at night or early morning
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing, which causes a whistling sound when you breathe out

These symptoms can range from mild to severe. You may have them every day or only once in a while.

When you are having an asthma attack, your symptoms get much worse. The attacks may come on gradually or suddenly. Sometimes they can be life-threatening. They are more common in people who have severe asthma. If you are having asthma attacks, you may need a change in your treatment.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Your health care provider may use many tools to diagnose asthma:

  • Physical exam
  • Medical history
  • Lung function tests, including spirometry, to test how well your lungs work
  • Tests to measure how your airways react to specific exposures. During this test, you inhale different concentrations of allergens or medicines that may tighten the muscles in your airways. Spirometry is done before and after the test.
  • Peak expiratory flow (PEF) tests to measure how fast you can blow air out using maximum effort
  • Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) tests to measure levels of nitric oxide in your breath when you breathe out. High levels of nitric oxide may mean that your lungs are inflamed.
  • Allergy skin or blood tests, if you have a history of allergies. These tests check which allergens cause a reaction from your immune system.
What are the treatments for asthma?

If you have asthma, you will work with your health care provider to create a treatment plan. The plan will include ways to manage your asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. It will include:

  • Strategies to avoid triggers. For example, if tobacco smoke is a trigger for you, you should not smoke or allow other people to smoke in your home or car.
  • Short-term relief medicines, also called quick-relief medicines. They help prevent symptoms or relieve symptoms during an asthma attack. They include an inhaler to carry with you all the time. It may also include other types of medicines which work quickly to help open your airways.
  • Control medicines. You take them every day to help prevent symptoms. They work by reducing airway inflammation and preventing narrowing of the airways.

If you have a severe attack and the short-term relief medicines do not work, you will need emergency care.

Your provider may adjust your treatment until asthma symptoms are controlled.

Sometimes asthma is severe and cannot be controlled with other treatments. If you are an adult with uncontrolled asthma, in some cases your provider might suggest bronchial thermoplasty. This is a procedure that uses heat to shrink the smooth muscle in the lungs. Shrinking the muscle reduces your airway's ability to tighten and allows you to breathe more easily. The procedure has some risks, so it's important to discuss them with your provider.

Cough

Coughing is a reflex that keeps your throat and airways clear. Although it can be annoying, coughing helps your body heal or protect itself. Coughs can be either acute or chronic. Acute coughs begin suddenly and usually last no more than 2 to 3 weeks. Acute coughs are the kind you most often get with a cold, flu, or acute bronchitis. Chronic coughs last longer than 2 to 3 weeks. Causes of chronic cough include:

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Smoking
  • Throat disorders, such as croup in young children
  • Some medicines

Water can help ease your cough - whether you drink it or add it to the air with a steamy shower or vaporizer. If you have a cold or the flu, antihistamines may work better than non-prescription cough medicines. Children under four should not have cough medicine. For children over four, use caution and read labels carefully.