What is it and what can I expect?
First signs of a common cold, also called an upper respiratory infection (URI), typically include a sore throat and runny nose, followed by coughing and sneezing. The common cold is caused by a virus. Antibiotics will not help you recover from a cold. If you catch a cold, getting lots of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke is advised. Colds can last from one to two weeks, but there are a number of ways to relieve symptoms.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications may help ease symptoms. Some varieties will contain several kinds of medication to treat different symptoms or contain alcohol. It’s wise to find a medication that only contains the type of medication that treats the symptoms you’re experiencing. Always use as directed and consult your health care provider if you have questions, especially if you have a chronic health condition or are taking other prescription or OTC medications. Many people can treat symptoms at home and here are some tips on how to feel better based on the symptoms you are experiencing:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
- Make sure you rest as it is vital part to your body’s healing process.
- Staying hydrated will help keep you from dehydrating and help keep your throat moist. Choosing water or sports drinks can help you stay hydrated while alcohol, coffee, or any caffeinated drinks may contribute to dehydration.
- Sipping on warm liquids such as soup or brewed tea with honey; ice chips, lozenges, or a saltwater gargle (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water) may help soothe a sore throat.
- Using a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer to add moisture to the air, soothing mucous membranes.
- Taking OTC pain relievers, such as such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), ibuprofen (e.g., Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (e.g., Aleve) can help reduce the sore throat feeling as well.
- Consider cough medicine. It may be wise to consult a health care provider or pharmacist if you’re not sure which one to choose. A product containing dextromethorphan (e.g., Robitussin) will help suppress a cough. Guaifenesin (e.g., Mucinex) is an ingredient that helps to liquefy mucus, allowing it to be coughed up and relieving congestion.
- Sucking on a cough drop will help keep your throat moist.
- Placing a warm compress over the nose and forehead can help relieve sinus pressure.
- Using a decongestant such as pseudoephedrine (e.g., Sudafed) or nasal saline spray (e.g., Ayer Saline Mist or Netti Pot) can help unclog a “stuffy” nose.
- Breathing in steam for 10 to 20 minutes several times a day may also relieve congestion.
Headache, Body Aches, or Fever
Taking an OTC fever reducer or pain reliever medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can help to relieve pain and reduce fever.
When would visiting a health care provider be advised?
If you have:
- A temperature higher than 100.4°F (38 ° C)
- Symptoms that last more than 10 days
- Symptoms that are severe such as chest pain or shortness of breath
Last reviewed/updated: August 23, 2021