The common cold is a fact of life. Symptoms ranging from moderate to severe afflict millions of people year round. But chronic colds can be a cause for concern. Understanding the causes of chronic colds is an important first step toward treating and preventing them.

Understanding Causes

The causes of the common cold are often debated and very much misunderstood. Many people believe that exposure to cold weather is a cause. This, in fact, is where colds get their name. However, scientists have been unable to establish a connection between cold weather and the onset of or increased likelihood of catching a cold. Rather, like other diseases such as the flu, colds are seasonal and occur more frequently during the winter months. Since more time is spent indoors during the winter months, exposure to other cold sufferers is common, promoting the incorrect idea that it is the cold weather itself that causes colds.

Other Causes

Most colds are a form of rhinovirus and therefore occur spontaneously and are transmitted from person to person. Exposure to another person's germs is the cause of all colds, usually through the transmission of saliva or nasal secretions, but certain factors make infection more likely. A lack of sleep has been shown to dramatically increase the risk of catching a cold, as sleep deprivation harms the immune system. Other studies have found an association with colds and a lack of vitamin D. This may be another case of the weakened immune system making an individual more susceptible to colds, although whether or not a vitamin D regimen will prevent colds has yet to be determined.


One theory holds that chronic colds are actually a form of sinusitis, or an infection of the sinuses. Mild sinus infections may disappear without treatment and therefore resemble a cold, but their recurrence is more likely. In cases of sinusitis, the concern is the development of other diseases of the nose, lungs, throat, or ears. Sinusitis also taxes the individual's immune system, making the likelihood of contracting any other disease greater. Sinus infections and colds are confused not only because of their similar symptoms, but also because often a cold will lead to a bout of sinusitis. In cases of sinusitis, antibiotics may be an appropriate solution if the source of the illness is bacterial in nature. Since actual colds are viruses, antibiotics are useless to help. There is no cure for the common cold.


In many cases of chronic colds, the individual is simply being re-infected with the same virus before the body can develop antibodies and thus make itself immune. This can happen because of the lingering presence of the virus in the victim's environment, such as on a toothbrush. It can also occur if the original cold sufferer infects people with whom he or she comes into regular contact. Once the original victim begins to recover, his or her family or friends may begin exhibiting symptoms and can reinfect that person who, in turn, may reinfect them soon thereafter. This cycle can continue indefinitely unless steps are taken to separate the cold sufferer from other would-be victims.

Immunity and Impatience

It is the consensus of many in the medical field that chronic colds, whatever their initial cause, are perpetuated by impatience and compromised immunity. Lack of sleep or failure to rest properly during a cold can set up an individual for the next cold, and so on. Likewise, going about one's daily tasks while sick can promote the spread of a cold to others who, in turn, may pass the same cold back to the original victim. Following doctors' orders and doing everything possible to foster a strong immune system (taking vitamins, getting ample sleep, and avoiding contact with ill persons) are the well-known but often ignored solutions to the vast majority of chronic colds.