Skip to main contentSkip to main navigationSkip to footer content

common cold

Facts About the Common Cold

  • A common cold is a respiratory virus most often caused by rhinovirus.
  • Sore throat and runny nose are usually the first signs of a cold, followed by coughing and sneezing.
  • Most colds last about 7-10 days. Antibiotics do NOT help a cold.
  • Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, but children can have many more.
  • There is no vaccine to protect you against the common cold.


Protect Yourself

Viruses that cause colds are generally spread through the air and through close personal contact. The virus can spread when you touch a contaminated object (e.g. a doorknob or someone's hands) and then touch your eyes, nose and mouth.

The best ways to protect yourself from catching a cold:
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Stay away from people who are sick

Protect Others

If you have a cold, you should follow these tips to help prevent spreading it to other people:

  • Stay at home while you are sick
  • Avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands
  • Move away from people before coughing or sneezing
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue then throw it away, or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve, completely covering your mouth and nose
  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and objects such as toys and doorknobs


There is no cure for the common cold, but there are cold remedies to help with the different symptoms you may be experiencing:

Stuffy/Runny Nose

  • Humidify with a vaporizer and take a steamy shower
  • Decongestants: Look for products containing pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • Avoid decongestants if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or hypertension. Decongestants may cause wakefulness, irritability, increased blood pressure and faster heart rate.

Mucous Producing Cough

  • Drink lots of clear fluids. Water is best.
  • Humidify
  • If you smoke, stop
  • Cough syrup with a guaifenesin (Robitussin or Mucinex®) that can help thin the mucous
  • Cough suppressants (look for ingredients with Dextromethorphan) at night if cough is preventing sleep. It is otherwise not recommended to suppress a productive cough.

Frequent Dry Hacking Cough

  • Humidify with a vaporizer
  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Use throat lozenges
  • Cough suppressants
  • Dextromethorphan may cause drowsiness or upset stomach

Headache, Body Aches and Fever

  • Rest in a peaceful, calm environment
  • Try relaxation exercises
  • Drink fluids (water is best)
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen (brand names do not make a difference)
  • If you are on other medications, be sure that there are no adverse drug interactions. Avoid ibuprofen if you have ulcers or bleeding problems.
  • Before taking acetaminophen (Tylenol), check to see that the other products you are taking do not already contain acetaminophen. Do not exceed the recommended amount of acetaminophen, as this can cause liver damage.

Sore Throat; Hoarseness

  • Rest vocal cords
  • Humidify with a vaporizer
  • Drink lots of fluids (water is best)
  • A saltwater gargle -- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in an 8-ounce glass of warm water -- can temporarily relieve a sore or scratchy throat.
  • Use throat lozenges -- with topical anesthetics such as Benzocaine (Sucrets, Chloraseptic lozenges) Benzocaine provides temporary relief but may alter your sense of taste and smell.

When to Seek Medical Attention

  • Cold symptoms lasting longer than 10 days
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath (if this is severe call 911)
  • Sudden onset of severe sore throat (you may need to be tested for strep throat)
  • Any symptoms that are severe or unusual