The common cold is an infection of the nose, throat, ears, and sinuses caused by any one of hundreds of viruses. Symptoms can include a runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough, body aches, and fever. Coughing, sneezing, or touching hands easily spreads cold viruses from person to person. For people who are healthy, this is usually not a serious condition, and symptoms typically go away in seven to ten days. Because the common cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics (which only treat infections caused by bacterial) are not helpful in treatment.

Prevention

  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid close contact with people who have colds
  • Avoid touching you mouth, nose, or eyes too often, and try to wash your hands before doing so
  • Avoid smoking
  • Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and exercise to help support your immune system

Treatment

Home care   Home Care

  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Consume hot beverages such as tea with honey and chicken soup to relieve congestion and throat irritation
  • Take Tylenol® or Advil® for fever, sore throat, and body aches
  • If your nose is getting sore from blowing, use nasal saline to keep secretions moist. You may also apply petroleum jelly if the skin around the nose is getting cracked and burning.
  • Humidify your bedroom to aid in sleeping
  • Use of nasal decongestants such as oxymetazoline (Afrin) can be helpful for symptom relief. Be careful not to use them for more than two to three days, as they can start to cause rebound congestion, essentially generating the symptoms you’ve been treating.
  • Consider a trial of cough medicine containing dextromethorphan if cough is particularly intrusive.
  • Wash your hands to prevent spread of virus to others
  • Avoid antihistamines, as they do not help with colds

Professional care   Professional Care

Seek medical attention for any of the following:

  • High fever or shaking chills
  • Facial pain or other signs of sinusitis (see “Sinusitis”)
  • No improvement in symptoms for two to three weeks