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What're the complications of a common cold?

Bacteria that are normally present in the respiratory tract can take advantage of the weakened immune system during a common cold and produce a co-infection. Middle ear infection (in children) and bacterial sinusitis are common coinfections.

A possible explanation for these coinfections is that strong blowing of the nose drives nasal fluids into those areas.

The rhinovirus infection, a major cause of colds, also commonly predisposes children to ear infections, possibly by obstructing the Eustachian tube, which leads to the middle ear. Viruses may even attack the ear directly. In one study, 74% of patients with rhinovirus colds had pressure abnormalities in their middle ear.

Between 0.5% and 5% of people with colds develop sinusitis, an infection in the sinus cavities (air-filled spaces in the skull). Sinusitis is usually mild, but if it becomes severe, antibiotics generally eliminate further problems. In rare cases, however, sinusitis can be serious.

The common cold poses a risk for bronchitis and pneumonia in nursing home patients and other people who may be susceptible to infection. Some experts believe that the rhinovirus may play a more significant role than the flu in causing lower respiratory infections in such people.

Rhinovirus infection often triggers asthma attacks in people with asthma. Some people develop bacterial infections of the middle ear (otitis media) or sinuses because of a cold. These infections develop because congestion in the nose blocks the normal drainage of those areas, allowing bacteria to grow in collections of blocked secretions. Other people develop bacterial infections of the lower airways (secondary bronchitis or pneumonia).

A cold that doesn't resolve may turn into sinusitis. Other secondary infections that may develop following a cold include strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis), chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. These are serious infections and need to be treated aggressively by your doctor.

Over time, decongestant drops and sprays can actually cause rebound congestion, which means that you may need to use more and more of these products to keep your nasal passages clear. Prolonged use can also cause chronic inflammation of the mucous membranes. If you must use decongestant drops and sprays, don't use them for more than a few days.


More information on common cold

What is a common cold? - The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system. The common cold belongs to the upper respiratory tract infections.
What causes a common cold? - The common cold is caused by numerous viruses (mainly rhinoviruses, coronaviruses) infecting the upper respiratory system.
What're the risk factors for a common cold? - Children are especially susceptible to colds. The risk of respiratory infections is increased by exposure to cigarette smoke.
What're the complications of a common cold? - The common cold poses a risk for bronchitis and pneumonia in nursing home patients and other people who may be susceptible to infection.
What're the symptoms of colds? - Symptoms of the common cold include nasal discharge, obstruction of nasal breathing, swelling of the sinus membranes, sneezing, sore throat, cough and headache.
How is a common cold diagnosed? - Doctors are usually able to diagnose a cold from the typical symptoms. There are no laboratory tests readily available to detect the cold virus.
What's the treatment for a common cold? - There are no medicines that will cure the common cold. Colds are generally treated by addressing the person's symptoms.
How to prevent a common cold? - The best way to avoid a cold is to avoid close contact with existing sufferers, to thoroughly wash hands regularly, and to avoid touching the face.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005