In contrast to the flu, a common cold can be caused by many different types of viruses (over 200) and that’s where there’s no effective vaccination. The condition is generally harmless and symptoms usually resolve within two weeks.
- a runny nose
- Sore throat
- Red eyes
- Swelling of lymph glands
- Occasional fever
- There may be loss of appetite, sometimes nausea and vomiting
High fever or severe symptoms are reasons to see a doctor, especially in children.
Most people recover on their own within one to two weeks.
Over-the-counter products and home remedies can help control symptoms.
- Paracetamol can be given if pain and fever are bothersome (15mg/kg in children up to 1g)
- Warm drinks such as honey lemon tea can soothe a sore throat and improve a cough
- Salt water gargle can also help a sore throat
- Nasal rinse, saline nasal spray or decongestant nasal spray can ease a blocked nose and prevent sinus headaches – see our page on triple nasal therapy/sinusitis
- Lozenges – these help an incessant cough and you can use any kind of lozenge, it doesn’t need to be a cough drop. Sugar free is good if you’ll be going through a lot of them
Things that don’t help
- Antibiotics – Colds are caused by viruses and you’re unlikely to get an antibiotic from us if you have a cold. They can cause side effects which just make you feel worse if you don’t need them
- Cough medicines – these never really help. The cough is caused by irritation of the trachea, or from mucous that trickles down. Dry or chesty cough medicines will not help either of these symptoms
- Cold and flu tablets – The most helpful element in cold and flu tablets is the paracetamol. If you have other symptoms like a blocked nose, it’s better to use a separate spray or rinse instead of an all-in-one tablet. Think of it as making a custom preparation for you instead of taking things you don’t need, and which won’t help anyway.
- Aspirin – do not give children aspirin as it can lead to a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome
When to see the doctor
Although most people recover quite quickly without any intervention, you should see us if you;
- Are unable to drink liquids
- Are vomiting frequently
- Have an intense headache that just doesn’t feel right
- Are pale and sleepy
- Have any difficulty breathing
- Have a high fever that isn’t responding to paracetamol
- Show no improvement in 48 hours
- Are concerned about any signs that worry you at all (after all, you know yourself and your family best)
It’s almost impossible to avoid catching a cold. To date there have been no vitamins or supplements that have shown to reliably prevent a cold (and lots of evidence showing that supplements are not likely to contain what they claim anyway!).
Flu vaccinations will help avoid the flu (but not a cold) and are still worthwhile, especially if there’s any other underlying conditions that can be made worse.
Hand washing, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, and throwing away used tissues immediately can help prevent the spread to your contacts. If you’re happy to don the look, face masks can be helpful to prevent spread to friends, family and colleagues.