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A cold is an infection that affects your nose, throat, and sinuses. Tiny germs called cold viruses get inside your body and make you sick. The rhinovirus (say: rye-no-VYE-rus) is the most common cold virus, but more than 200 viruses can cause colds.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a vaccine (or shot) to prevent the common cold. But your body already has the best cold cure — your immune system. This is what fights illness in your body. White blood cells are the immune system's main warriors. They're your own private army working to help you feel better.

How Do Kids Catch Colds?

Mucus (say: MYOO-kus) is wet, slimy stuff inside the nose, mouth, and throat. When someone sneezes or coughs, tiny mucus drops that you can’t see float in the air. Breathing in these droplets can spread a cold from one person to another.

You also can catch a cold if you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching something with cold viruses on it. Computers, cellphones, door handles, light switches, and your school desk are all hot spots for viruses. Be sure to wash your hands well and often, as this helps wash off viruses you pick up throughout the day.

What Are the Symptoms of a Cold?

After you have contact with a cold virus, it takes 2 to 3 days for cold symptoms to begin. You may have some of these symptoms with a cold:

  • sore throat, coughing, or a “tickle” in the throat
  • sneezing or congestion (stuffy nose)
  • feeling very tired
  • mild fever (100°–101°F/37.2°–37.8°C)
  • body aches
  • low appetite (not feeling hungry)

How Can I Feel Better?

Here are some feel-better tips if you get a cold:

  • Bring on the heat. Hot drinks and soup soothe coughs and sore throats while also clearing mucus.
  • Get steamed up. A steamy shower helps stuffy or irritated noses. You can also use a humidifier (a small, quiet machine that sprays a cool mist into the air) to relieve your scratchy throat and stuffy nose. Humidifiers make room air moist, which loosens mucus.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. Drinking enough will help you feel better. (Popsicles and ice pops count too — just make sure they’re not loaded with sugar.)
  • Blow your nose regularly. Blowing your nose is the best way to get rid of mucus.
  • Rest. Take a nap or go to bed a little earlier for a few nights.

How Can I Avoid Getting a Cold?

The best thing you can do to prevent getting a cold is to wash your hands often with warm water and soap, especially before and after eating. (You can use hand sanitizer when you don’t have water or soap, but hand sanitizer won’t remove things like dirt or grease.)

You can also keep your body in good shape to help prevent colds by being active, avoiding stress, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough rest. Doing these things will help your body fight cold viruses better, meaning you might not always get sick when you come in contact with them. Take that, cold viruses!

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: May 2024