Common Cold

Common cold

A cold is caused by a viral infection of your nose and throat.
The cold may sometimes involve your sinuses, which are hollow spaces in your face bones.

Don’t worry: In most cases, you can treat cold symptoms safely yourself and won’t need to see a doctor.

If you feel you need treatment for your cold, speak with your pharmacist first about available over-the-counter remedies, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Warning: Sometimes, more serious health problems such as a chest infection can cause symptoms similar to those of a cold, so it’s good to be able to spot the warning signs.

What are the symptoms of a cold?

The common cold produces various symptoms that normally develop over a few days.

Don’t worry: While cold symptoms can be unpleasant, they usually clear up by themselves within a week or two, and serious problems are rare.

Common symptoms of the cold include:

Feeling unwell: You feel generally unwell, ache all over and shiver from time to time

Fever: You have a raised body temperature over 38C (100.4F) but less than 39 degrees C (102.2F)

Nose: You sneeze a lot and have a blocked or runny nose

Throat and chest: You have a sore throat or a cough, or both

Voice: Your voice may become croaky or hoarse

Fact: Cold symptoms tend to peak at 3 to 5 days before they gradually clear. The cough may last for 2 to 3 weeks before it starts to go away, and sometimes even longer.

What are the warning signs?

There are several warning signs that should prompt you to seek advice from your doctor, in case you may have a more serious underlying health problem.
Look out for the following:

Chest: You find it harder to breathe, you notice a pain in your chest, or your cough is severe

Ears: Your ears hurt and feel blocked (see section on ear infection)

Fever: You develop a raised body temperature above 39C (102.2F)

Headache: You have a bad headache or pain in your face, especially if you also have a stiff neck, get muddled or develop strange new symptoms such as tingling or weakness in your limbs (see section on meningitis)

Rash: You notice a new and unusual rash on your body

Throat: You develop noisy breathing, drool, or you can’t swallow properly

Warning: Also see your doctor or practice nurse if your symptoms last for longer than 3 weeks, are unusually severe or suddenly get worse, if you have an underlying health problem such as asthma or low immunity, or if you’re concerned for any other reason.

How can I manage a cold myself?

While there’s no cure for the common cold, there’s a lot you can do to make yourself feel better

Tip: For advice on suitable over-the-counter remedies speak with your pharmacist.

Here are some tips for treating the common cold yourself:

Drinks: Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, such as water, as soon as you feel thirsty

Healthy Diet: Aim to eat at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day to help your body tackle infections

Over-the-counter medicines: Simple non-prescription medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help reduce your pain and ease other symptoms, such as fever. Make sure you take them exactly as directed on the label or as instructed by a health professional. Keep to the recommended doses at the correct intervals before assessing their effectiveness, but don’t exceed the maximum daily dose. Always read the information on the packet to make sure they’re safe for you to take and seek advice from your pharmacist or doctor (GP) if you’re concerned

Rest: Take it easy until you feel better, though normal activity won’t harm you if you feel up to it

Soothing remedies: Try gargling with salt water (dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a mug of boiled and cooled down water) or suck menthol sweets to help with a sore throat or blocked nose

Steam: Steam inhalation may help with congestion. To avoid scalding, sit in the bathroom with a running hot shower

Fact: Drugs called antibiotics don’t work for the common cold and are best avoided. They can even cause unpleasant or even harmful side effects such as rashes, diarrhoea and allergies.

What else can I do?

You can take various steps to avoid spreading the cold and not passing it on to other people.
You need to do the following:

Use tissues: Always sneeze or cough into a tissue, and then throw it away

Wash your hands: Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, especially after you’ve touched your mouth or nose

Get the flu jab: Have the flu jab every year if you’re in a higher-risk group, for instance if you have asthma or low immunity

Tip: When you or someone else has a cold, wipe shared surfaces and objects, such as door handles, computer keyboards and telephones, regularly with a germ-killing solution (ask your pharmacist) to prevent spreading the infection to other people.