Upper Respiratory Infection (Common Cold)

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Latest Edit: Hector 2014-05-14 (EDT)

The most common illness in human medicine is the common cold. Also known as an upper respiratory infection (URI), the common cold accounts for up to 25 million visits to physicians annually. The common cold can affect people of all ages and is experienced most frequently during the spring and fall. It is estimated that the average child experiences four to six colds per year, while the average adult contracts two to three colds per year.[1]

Upper Respiratory Infections are mainly spread by person-to-person contact. The incubation period for a cold can be up to three days after exposure.[2] It is important to distinguish between the Common Cold and Influenza or Flu. The common cold is generally a mild respiratory infection that typically resolves within ten days; whereas the flu can be much more severe and can lasts a lot longer.

Common Cold

Common Cold
Causes Infections, Dietary Factors, Smoking, Stress
See Also Respiratory Conditions, Otitis Media, Sinusitis, Pneumonia, Epistaxis (nosebleed), Bronchitis, Influenza
Books Books on Respiratory Conditions
Articles Articles on Respiratory Conditions

Naturopathic Assessment

Article Use of a Standarized Extract from Echinacea angustifolia (Polinacea) for the Prevention of Respiratory Tract Infections , Alt Med; 2012;Vol17(1)

Causal Factors

The risk of getting a cold depends on two factors: personal susceptibility and exposure to a pathogen. The naturopathic assessment looks at both aspects. The stronger a person's vitality the less likely they will be affected by exposure to viruses, bacteria or other pathogens. The factors that are associated with increased susceptibility to upper respiratory infections include:


  • Poor nutrition is associated with decreased immune function and an increased risk of infection.[3]
  • Increased risk can be linked to specific nutrient deficiencies.
  •  :*Supplementing zinc has been shown to reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.[4]
  • Transmission of viruses which cause upper respiratory tract infections most often occurs by contact with infected individuals or contaminated surfaces. Touching one's face before hand washing increases the risk of contracting an infection.[1]
  • Although prolonged, intense physical training may increase the rate of upper respiratory infections, in general, physical activity is correlated with a lower rate of upper respiratory infections.[5] [6]


  • Relationships
  • Maintaining positive social relationships may help to prevent upper respiratory infections.[1]


  • While the rhinovirus may be the most common virus implicated in the common cold, it accounts for less than half of common colds. Other viruses including adenovirus, coronavirus, enterovirus, influenza, parainfluenza, and respirtatory syncytial virus all cause upper respiratory infections.[1]
  • Seasonal Changes
  • Cold-causing viruses tend to survive better in the winter months due to lower humidity. The increased frequency of colds in the winter months may also be attributed to environmental impacts on the moisture level of the nasal lining.[7]


  • Dampness and Mold
  • Residential dampness and mold are associated with increases in both respiratory infections and bronchitis.[8]
  • School Exposure
  • Children attending pre-school and day care centres have more colds than those that do not attend. This difference is not observed in subsequent years, possibly due to acquired immunity.[1]


  • Increases in stress from either physical or emotional sources increase the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.[5]

Medical Interventions

  • Prescription Medications
  • Any prescription medication that weakens the immune system can increase the risk of upper respiratory infections.


  • Breathing dysfunctions are associated with increased susceptibility and risk of a cold.

Diagnostic Testing

A cold is diagnosed based on physical findings and an individuals current presentation. In general there are no need for laboratory tests unless the infection is prolonged or recurs frequently.[9]

  • Although generally not performed, laboratory studies may include cultures if group A streptococcus or Bordetalla pertussis are suspected.[9] Other blood tests that may be recommended include a CBC.

Related Symptoms and Conditions

Conditions related to the common cold include:[9], [7]


Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTIs) are typically caused by respiratory viruses and are associated with many symptoms that affect respiration. The first sign of a cold is often a sore throat, followed by sneezing and excess mucous production that typically starts out as clear and then can become cloudy. The excess mucous or phlegm often causes a cough or laborious breathing because of phlegm obstructing the airways. It is not common to have a fever with the common cold and symptoms typically resolve within 10 days.

Common Symptoms

The signs and symptoms associated with the common cold include:[10]

Comparing Cold and Flu Symptoms

Symptom Cold Symptom Flu Symptom
Aches, pains Slight Common, often severe
Chest Discomfort Mild to moderate Common to severe
Chills Rare Common
Cough Hacking (a short, weak repeating cough), productive cough (cough that produce phlegm) Dry, unproductive cough (cough not accompanied by expectoration)
Extreme exhaustion Never Early and prominent
Fatigue Mild Moderate to severe, can last up to 2-3 weeks
Fever Rare Common, high (102-104F or 39-40C); last for days.
Headache Rare Common
Sneezing Common Sometimes
Sore throat Common, often initial symptom Sometimes
Stuffy nose Common Sometimes
Other possible health problem Usually no pneumonia, bacterial infections

Naturopathic Treatment

The goal of naturopathic treatment is to support and work in tandem with the healing power of the body and to address the causal factors of disease with individual treatment strategies. A common cold will typically resolve on its own within ten days if a person is fairly healthy and provides their body with the rest and support that it requires. The following guidelines can help speed recovery and can assist in preventing frequent or long-lasting colds.

It is always advisable to work with a naturopathic doctor before engaging in any treatment plan.

Home Care

Home Care strategies include:

  • Humidification
  • There is mixed evidence that using a humidifier can help to treat a cold. It is suggested that especially in dry environments the use of a humidifer may be helpful.[1]
  • Frequent hand washing to prevent contracting a cold is recommended. To decrease the chance of transmission, individuals should limit contact with an individual with a cold.[1]
  • Resting at home is recommended when recovering from an upper respiratory tract infection, both for personal health and to decrease transmission to others. Providing the body with adequate rest is often the most important step in speeding recovery.


Lifestyle recommendations include:

  • Drink plenty of warm liquids such as water, diluted vegetable juices, soups and herb teas. Try to drink 8 ounces of water every hour.[11]
  • Avoid sugar, including natural sugars such as honey, orange juice, and fructose because simple sugars depress the immune system.[11]
  • Ensure adequate protein consumption. Protein requirement may be over 1.g/kg/day for adequate immune function.[3]
  • Although exercise can decrease your risk of getting a cold, when you are recovering it is best to rest and refrain from exercise other than mild exercise such as walking or stretching.
  • It is common to require additional sleep when recovering from a cold.

Naturopathic Therapies

The prescribing of naturopathic therapies requires the guidance of a naturopathic doctor as it depends on a number of factors including the causal factors, a person's age, prescription medications, other conditions and symptoms and overall health. It is always advisable to work with a naturopathic doctor prior to taking any natural therapies.

Naturopathic Therapies for upper respiratory infections include:

Bayberry (Myrica cerifera), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), Elder (Sambucus nigra), Eyebright (Euphrasia species), Garlic (Allium sativum), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Mullein (Verbascum thapus), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Thuja (Thuja occidentalis), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), Yarrow (Achileea millefolium), Andrographis, North American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), Wild Indigo (Baptisia).[13], [14][10], Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus), Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes the varied presentations of the common cold and flu, and treatment is dependent on detailed assessment. Treatment principles utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine to address a cold or flu include:[17]
  • Wind Cold
  • Wind Heat
  • Cold Deficiency
  • Yin Deficiency
  • Lung Qi Deficiency

Individual acupuncture points and chinese patent formulas are selected based on presentation and the disease pattern identified.[17]

  • Nasal Irrigation
  • The use of a Neti pot, or other saline nasal spray may help with congestion associated with an upper respiratory tract infection.[1]
  • Contrast Showers
  • Alternating hot and cold during showers may reduce the duration and frequency of cold symptoms.[7]

Specialized Naturopathic Therapies

Specialized therapies that are used to treat cold and flu include:

  • Intravenous nutrient therapy, namely "the Myers' cocktail" has been found to be effective in the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections.[18]


Reviewed by Iva Lloyd, BScH, RPE, ND [1]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Barrett B (2007) Rakel: Integrative Medicine 2nd ed Chap 20 Viral Upper Respiratory Infection Saunders
  2. Pizzorno Joseph, Murray Michael, Joiner-Bey Herb The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine, Churchill Livingstone
  3. 3.0 3.1 Prousky Jonathan (2008) Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Clinical Nutrition CCNM Press.
  4. Veverka DV et al (2009) Use of zinc supplements to reduce upper respiratory infections in United States Air Force Academy Cadets Complement Ther Clin Pract 15(2):91-5
  5. 5.0 5.1 Tiollier E et al. (2005) Intense training: mucosal immunity and incidence of respiratory infections Eur J of App Phys 93(4):421-8
  6. Klentrou P, Hay J, Pyley M (2003) Habitual physical activity levels and health outcomes of Ontario youth Eur J of App Phys 89(5):460-5
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Ulbricht C (2010) The common cold: An integrative approach. A natural standard monograph Altern Complement Ther 16(6):351-8
  8. Fisk WJ, Eliseeva EA, Mendell MJ (Nov 2010) Association of residential dampness and mold with respiratory tract infections and bronchitis: a meta-analysis. Environ Health;15;9:72. PMID: 21078183.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Turner RB (2009) Mandell: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases 7th ed Chap 53 the Common Cold Churchill Livingstone
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Roxas M, Jurenka J (2007) Colds and Influenza: A review of Diagnosis and Conventional, Botanical, and Nutritional Considerations Alt Med Rev 12(1):25-48
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Murray Michael (1996) Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, The Essential Guide for Improving Your Health Naturally Prima Publishing
  12. Lu Henry (1986) Chinese System of Food Cures, prevention and remedies Sterling Publishing Co. New York.
  13. Godfrey Anthony, Saunders Paul Richard, Barlow Kerry, Gilbert Cyndi, Gowan Matthew, Smith Fraser (2010) Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine, Vol 1: Botanical Medicine Monographs, CCNM Press, Toronto
  14. Boon Heather, Smith Michael (2004) The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs, Robert Rose, Toronto
  15. Hershoff Asa (2000) Homeopathic Remedies, A Quick and Easy Guide to Common Disorders and their Homeopathic Treatments, Avery Publishing Group, New York
  16. Ullman Robert, Reichenberg-Ullman Judyth (1997) Homeopathic Self-Care, the quick and easy guide for the whole family. Prima Publishing
  17. 17.0 17.1 Kuoch DJ (2007) Acupuncture Desk Reference 2nd ed Acumedwest
  18. Gaby AR (2002) Intravenous nutrient therapy: the "Myers cocktail" Alt Med Rev 7(5) 389-403