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The common cold in children: Clinical features and diagnosis

Diane E Pappas, MD, JD
Section Editor
Morven S Edwards, MD
Deputy Editor
Mary M Torchia, MD


The common cold is an acute, self-limiting viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, involving, to variable degrees, sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge (rhinorrhea), sore throat, cough, low-grade fever, headache, and malaise. It can be caused by members of several families of viruses; the most common are the more than 100 serotypes of rhinoviruses.

The epidemiology, clinical features, complications, and diagnosis of the common cold in children will be discussed here. The treatment and prevention of the common cold in children and the common cold in adults are discussed separately. (See "The common cold in children: Management and prevention" and "The common cold in adults: Diagnosis and clinical features" and "The common cold in adults: Treatment and prevention".)


Viral causes — The symptoms of the common cold can be caused by a variety of viruses (table 1). Rhinoviruses, which include more than 100 serotypes, cause up to 50 percent of colds in children and adults [1]. (See "Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and pathogenesis of rhinovirus infections".)

Many of the other viruses that cause colds also cause other characteristic clinical syndromes in children [2]:

Coronaviruses – Pneumonia and croup (see "Coronaviruses", section on 'Respiratory')

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 17, 2017.
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