The common cold, a self-limiting viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, is responsible for approximately 62 million cases per year in the United States.1 These viral infections, characterized by rhinorrhea, sneezing, nasal congestion, throat irritation and cough, account for three-quarters of all illnesses in infants and nearly one-half of all illnesses in adults.2 More than 75 percent of cases are in children,3 with preschool children having as many as 12 colds per year. Adults typically have two to three colds annually. Not only are colds and cough bothersome to the patient, they are also a huge burden on the health care system, including direct and indirect costs.
Although these infections are often viewed as nuisance illnesses, the common cold is a leading cause of morbidity due to acute infections. Viruses associated with the common cold, particularly rhinoviruses, predispose patients to a variety of secondary infections, such as lower respiratory tract infections,4 sinusitis5 and otitis media6. The common cold puts patients with chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma, at risk of acute exacerbations.
According to statistics provided by the American College of Chest Physicians, cough is the most common complaint for which patients seek medical care and the second most common reason for a general medical examination.7 In the U.S., the cost of treating cough, excluding the cost of prescription medications for the common cold or chronic cough, exceeds $1 billion annually. The cost of prescription medications to treat complications from colds adds billions to the cost. Lost productivity due to cough and cold costs $9 billion annually.8 According to the Center for Disease Control, 22 million school days are lost annually due to the common cold.9 Along with missing days at work due to their own cold symptoms, adults often miss work to care for sick school-aged children.
Cold and Cough treatment