Treating the common cold

The term “rhinosinusitis” is the medical term to describe an inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose and the sinuses. It is most often known as a “cold”!

Rhinosinusitis can be acute (lasting for a few days) or chronic. The most common types are infectious rhinitis (viral or bacterial) and allergic rhinitis (such as hay fever).

Symptoms may include a runny nose, blocked nose, sneezing, but may also affect your sense of smell and create tension in the sinus region (around the face and forehead). Fever is less common.

Infectious rhinitis is more common in the winter. It is often due to a virus, and more rarely due to bacteria.

The common cold should not be confused with the flu, which has much more severe symptoms.


The common cold is mainly caused by a group of viruses from different families that we call “respiratory viruses”, of which the most frequent are rhinoviruses and enteroviruses. Even if this is less common, infectious rhinosinusitis can also sometimes be caused by bacteria.

We catch a cold through contact with a virus, in other words, through the secretions of someone who is sick. This may be direct contact, such as a sick person sneezing near you, or indirect contact, such as touching a door handle, which was touched beforehand by a person suffering from a cold.


The common cold often goes away on its own within a few days. Antibiotics may be prescribed in the case of a bacterial infection, especially when the sinuses are affected.

Different treatment options may help to relieve symptoms:

  • Water can be used to unblock the nose (such as a Prorhinel solution).
  • A blocked nose can be relieved through the use of a spray. However, don’t use these sprays for more than 5 to 7 days, as it could make the cold worse.
  • Pain killers such as Paracetamol (Dafalgan, Panadol, etc.) or anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Irfen, Algifor, etc.) help to relieve the pain.

How can I avoid catching a cold?

Avoiding contact with people who are sick is the best way. However, people are already contagious one or two days before symptoms appear and will remain contagious for the first few days of the illness.

Try to keep a distance of one metre between yourself and the ill person. The risk of infection through a contaminated object (door handles, coins, etc.) can be reduced by washing your hands regularly.

For further information

You can find further information on the common cold on the Plan├Ęte website, especially the How do we catch a cold and how to prevent a cold articles.

Start for free

Medical advice?

Do you need a consultation with a GP?