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Rhinovirus Infection - Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

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Rhinovirus infections cause upper respiratory tract infections and are usually not life-threatening. This article explains about it in detail.

Published At March 23, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 20, 2023


As soon as we hear the term rhinovirus, we all would think of the common cold. The truth is that rhinovirus is more than just a common cold. The common cold is just one symptom of rhinovirus infection. Apart from common cold, they also cause middle ear infections and sinusitis.

More than 50 years ago, the same rhinovirus was isolated from people with a common cold and associated symptoms. The common cold caused due to rhinoviruses is of little direct medical consequence, but it does impact the daily life of affected people.

What Are Rhinoviruses?

Rhinoviruses are predominantly responsible for cold-like illnesses. They are also known as human rhinoviruses (HRV), which belong to the Picornoviridae family and Enterovirus genus. Three strains of human rhinoviruses are discovered as of now, they are, HRV-A, HRV-B, and HRV-C. These rhinoviruses are known to cause upper respiratory tract infections (infections pertaining to the nose, nasal passages, sinuses, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), and mouth). But they also exacerbate any existing lower respiratory tract diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, etc.

RV - 1

What Are Rhinovirus Infections?

Rhinovirus infection is a general term for a group of upper and lower respiratory tract infections caused by rhinoviruses. Though these infections can commonly occur in anyone, they are more common among small children. Rhinovirus infections include,

Upper Respiratory Tract Infections:

  • Common cold.

  • Acute otitis media.

  • Rhinosinusitis.

  • Croup.

Lower Respiratory Tract Infections:

Exacerbation of Chronic Pulmonary Diseases:

Though the most commonly caused rhinovirus infection, the common cold, does not cause serious medical consequences, it causes an extensive expenditure in the form of hospital visits, medical care, absenteeism at the workplace, and frequently missing schools. Up to 80 % of the affected people remain symptomatic, and most rhinovirus symptoms are mild and self-limiting.

Common Cold -

These occur year-round, with peak incidence during the early fall and spring. It also has peak incidence during the winters and rainy seasons in different parts of the world. The common cold is caused by varied agents, but a majority of the time, it is caused by rhinoviruses followed by a coronavirus, influenza virus, and adenovirus.


Symptoms of common cold include,

  • Stuffy or runny nose.

  • Mild fever.

  • Cough.

  • Sore throat.

  • Decreased appetite.

  • Headache.

  • Body pain.

The symptoms usually start 2 or 3 days after the viral exposure and resolve after a week or two with or without treatment. The infection easily gets transmitted from one person to another through respiratory droplets whenever an infected person sneezes or coughs. Touching contaminated surfaces and frequently touching the nose and mouth can also transmit the infection.

Though these do not cause serious complications in an otherwise healthy individual, they can progress to cause complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia in people with a weakened immune system or an existing respiratory illness.

Acute Otitis Media -

Rhinovirus is regarded as both the chief (but rare) causative organism and co-existing organism in middle ear infections. It causes inflammation of the respiratory epithelium (lining), which in turn leads to eustachian tube obstruction. This leads to secondary bacterial infection.

Rhinosinusitis -

Infection of the air sinuses (especially maxillary sinus) by the rhinovirus causes inflammation of the inner lining of the sinus cavities. This alters the structure of the sinus and causes obstruction. As a result, bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae get entrapped and cause bacterial sinusitis.

Croup -

Croup most commonly affects children aged up to 5 years, especially in the fall. All viruses that cause the common cold cause croup. In this disease, the child’s airways, including the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea), swell, and the child coughs with a high-pitched barking sound and also makes squeaky breathing noises (called stridor). Fortunately, their conditions improve within a week or so. If the airways swell considerably, it becomes difficult for the child to breathe, and eventually, bluish discoloration around the mouth appears due to lack of oxygen.

Bronchiolitis -

Infection of the bronchioles causes inflammation and is termed bronchiolitis. Rhinovirus-induced bronchiolitis can cause hospital admissions in the affected children. Most commonly, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes bronchiolitis, followed by rhinovirus. It can also cause recurrent wheeze, asthma and increase the risk of chronic lung diseases in the affected children due to its deleterious effects on the lung tissues.

Pneumonia -

Though human rhinoviruses profoundly cause upper respiratory tract infections only, in rare cases, the infection can extend beyond the throat region (oropharynx) and cause complications like pneumonia. It is characterized by typical symptoms of bacterial pneumonia such as wheezing, difficulty breathing (dyspnea), fever, chills, cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin, nail, and eyes, due to decreased oxygen), etc. Mostly in children hospitalized for pneumonia or bronchitis, the human rhinovirus can coexist along with other causative organisms.

Asthma -

Kids with human rhinovirus infection-induced wheeze during their initial years of life are at an elevated risk of asthma in their later childhood. It can also exacerbate existing asthma in both children and adults.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) -

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are together known as COPD. This condition makes it difficult for the lungs to breathe due to damage to the lung structures such as air sacs (alveoli) and bronchi (small branched tubes within the lungs). This damage is irreversible. Frequently bacteria are involved in COPD, which can be exacerbated by rhinoviruses in immunocompetent individuals.

Cystic Fibrosis -

Similar to asthma and COPD, rhinovirus exacerbates cystic fibrosis too. This is a genetic disorder wherein the properties of mucus are altered. Usually, mucus (bodily secretions for its functioning) is thin and slippery, but in people with cystic fibrosis, it becomes thick and gluey, which makes it difficult for them to breathe when it builds up inside the airways. Human rhinovirus C is associated with exacerbations of cystic fibrosis.

What Are the Symptoms of Rhinovirus Infections?

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  • Dryness and irritation in the nose.

  • Sore throat.

  • Nasal congestion.

  • Nasal discharge (it is usually thin at the beginning that thickens and changes greenish during the recovery period).

  • Sneezing.

  • Sore throat.

  • Temporary loss of smell and taste.

  • Headache.

  • Ear pressure.

  • Cough.

  • Restlessness.

  • Fever.

  • Body pain.

How Can Rhinovirus Infections Be Treated?

Common cold, the most common rhinovirus infection, is usually mild and self-limiting. Hence, only supportive care is needed to relieve the symptoms. The following measures are advised;

  • Rest.

  • Hydration.

  • Antihistamines.

  • Nasal decongestants.

  • Nasal saline drops.

  • Zinc supplements.

  • Discontinue alcohol and smoking.

  • Use humidifiers.

  • Drink hot water and hot chicken soup.

  • Cough syrup.

Make sure to consult a pediatrician for children with rhinovirus infection-like symptoms. Although not advisable, adults can use over-the-counter medications, but children should take medicines prescribed by the pediatrician.

How Can Common Cold Be prevented?


  • Make sure to maintain distance with the sick person at home. Isolate them.

  • Frequently disinfect frequently touched surfaces of the house with disinfectant.

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.

  • Avoid touching your face with your hands.

  • Whenever you sneeze or cough, use a tissue or else sneeze or cough in your bent elbow.


There is no permanent cure for a common cold or other rhinovirus infections, and no vaccines have been discovered until now. But fortunately, it is mild and resolves on its own after a stipulated period. But if you have a weak immune system, be informed that rhinovirus infections cause serious respiratory complications. It is always better to prevent one.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Rhinovirus a Serious Disease?

Millions of individuals experience the common cold, also known as the rhinovirus, a highly contagious respiratory virus. Even while it is typically not regarded as a serious condition, persons who are afflicted can nonetheless experience major negative effects on their quality of life. The rhinovirus causes runny noses, coughs, sore throats, lethargy, and body aches, among other symptoms. It may occasionally cause more serious symptoms like sinusitis, ear infections, and pneumonia. Although the rhinovirus rarely causes significant illness, it can be dangerous for some groups. People with compromised immune responses are more prone to severe symptoms and complications, including the elderly, small children, and those with long-term medical issues.


Is a Cold the Same as a Rhinovirus?

The common cold is mostly brought about by rhinovirus. However, not all colds are rhinovirus-related. The symptoms of a cold, a contagious respiratory illness, includes a runny nose, sore throat, congestion, coughing, and sneezing. A cold is typically brought about by a virus with more than 200 variants. One of these viruses, the rhinovirus, causes between 30 and 50 percent of colds. The highly contagious rhinovirus spreads by direct contact with infected surfaces or through the air.


Are Antibiotics Required for the Rhinovirus?

Since they exclusively combat bacteria, antibiotics are worthless against viruses, including the rhinovirus. While using antibiotics for a viral infection won't make it go away or last any shorter, it can also cause the growth of resistant bacteria to the drugs, making it more challenging to treat in the future. The best method to deal with a rhinovirus infection is to use over-the-counter painkillers and decongestants to lessen the symptoms, get lots of rest, and remain hydrated. You might require antibiotics if your symptoms are severe or if you get a subsequent bacterial infection. To ascertain whether taking antibiotics is necessary, it's essential to consult your doctor first.


What Is the Most Effective Rhinovirus Treatment?

There is no treatment for the common cold because a virus causes it, and medications only work against bacteria. However, several over-the-counter (OTC) medications can ease cold symptoms like runny nose, sore throat, and nasal congestion. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever and pain, decongestants (Sudafed) to reduce nasal congestion, and antihistamines (Benadryl) to stop runny noses are some of the most popular over-the-counter medications for rhinovirus. It's crucial to remember that while these medications may not be able to treat a cold, they can aid with symptom relief and general comfort.


What Is the Quickest Treatment for the Rhinovirus?

Taking good care of yourself, getting plenty of rest, and allowing your body to heal are the fastest ways to recover from rhinovirus. Although there is no known treatment for rhinovirus, there are techniques to lessen the symptoms and hasten the healing process. Drinking fluids such as water, herbal teas, and fruit juices are crucial for maintaining hydration. Decongestants, antihistamines, and painkillers are over-the-counter drugs that can aid with symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, and headaches.


Does a Person Need to Be Hospitalization for Rhinovirus?

Even though the common cold can be uncomfortable, it usually doesn't get bad enough for hospitalization. Most rhinovirus sufferers bounce back in a week or two without any medical help. Rarely, those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, may experience severe symptoms and need to be hospitalized. However, home care is not enough to improve the person's condition in some cases, especially if comorbidities like pneumonia are present.


Rhinovirus: A Cold Or Flu?

Viruses of the rhinovirus family are responsible for the common cold. The common cold is a minor ailment that mainly impacts the nose, throat, and upper respiratory system. Colds, unlike the flu, are often mild and do not cause significant health problems. The flu, otherwise known as influenza, is a serious condition caused by a particular kind of virus. Fever, aches and pains, exhaustion, and cough are all signs of the flu. Colds can be uncomfortable, but they are often not harmful and pass on their own in a few days to a week. On the other hand, the flu can be dangerous, particularly for those with compromised immune systems or specific underlying medical disorders.


What Is the Rhinovirus’s Primary Symptom?

A runny or stuffy nose is frequently the first sign of rhinovirus, generally known as the common cold. Other symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, exhaustion, and a sore throat, come after this. People can occasionally also get headaches and muscle aches. After exposure to the virus, the symptoms often after two to three days and last for a few days to weeks.


Rhinovirus: A COVID or Not?

Rhinovirus is not COVID, though. A rhinovirus typically brings on the common cold, but COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory disease brought on by a novel coronavirus. While COVID-19 can produce more severe symptoms and affect the entire respiratory system, rhinoviruses typically affect the upper respiratory tract.


How Long Will It Take for the Rhinovirus to Disappear?

The extremely contagious rhinovirus, generally known as the common cold, can last for days to weeks. However, it usually goes away by itself within seven to ten days. Age, general health, and immune system are a few variables that can affect how long the infection lasts. Sometimes secondary infections like sinusitis or pneumonia may be treated with antibiotics.


At What Temperature Does Rhinovirus Die?

Rhinovirus is quite vulnerable to extreme heat. According to studies, rhinoviruses perish at 60°C (140°F) or higher temperatures. The virus can be successfully destroyed by exposing the virus to moist heat, such as from steam or boiling water.


Can Azithromycin Treat a Rhinovirus?

No, azithromycin is ineffective for treating rhinovirus, a common cold-like infection. Antibiotic azithromycin treats bacterial infections on the skin and in the lungs, including pneumonia and streptococcal throat infection. Antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections, including the rhinovirus.


How Can the Rhinovirus Be Tested?

Mucus or saliva taken from the patient's nose or throat might be used to test for the rhinovirus. The sample is then taken to a lab for examination, where it is checked for the virus. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which multiplies the virus' genetic material and finds its presence, is the most often used technique for evaluating rhinoviruses. Rapid antigen detection and virus culture tests, which require cultivating the virus in a lab and detecting its presence through characteristic symptoms, are other techniques that can be used to identify a rhinovirus infection.


What Happens When a Rhinovirus Is Left Untreated?

Untreated rhinoviruses can cause serious side effects such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear infections. The virus spreads quickly and has the potential to cause outbreaks in homes, offices, and schools. The infection can remain for weeks if untreated, producing persistent symptoms like congestion, coughing, and exhaustion.


What Is a Home Treatment for a Rhinovirus?

Various natural therapies might assist in reducing symptoms and hasten the healing process. Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen are among the best at-home remedies. Additionally, a saline nasal rinse can help clear any mucus buildup and calm irritated nasal passages. A sore throat and cough can also be soothed by sipping hot tea flavored with honey and lemon. The virus can also be stopped by practicing proper hygiene, including frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with other people.
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Dr. Chandramani Harichandra Didgaonkar
Dr. Chandramani Harichandra Didgaonkar

General Practitioner


upper respiratory tract infection
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