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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Colds - Topic Overview

What are colds?

Everyone gets a cold from time to time. Children get more colds than adults.

Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks. You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they are more common in late winter and early spring.

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There is no cure for a cold. Antibiotics will not cure a cold. If you catch a cold, treat the symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Lots of different viruses cause colds, but the symptoms are usually the same:

  • Runny nose and sneezing
  • Red eyes
  • Sore throat and cough
  • Headaches and body aches

You will probably feel a cold come on over the course of a couple of days. As the cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker mucus.

A cold is not the same as the flu (influenza). Flu symptoms are worse and come on faster. If you have the flu, you may feel very tired. You may also have a fever and shaking chills, lots of aches and pains, a headache, and a cough.

If you feel like you have a cold all the time, or if cold symptoms last more than 2 weeks, you may have allergies or sinusitis. Call your doctor.

What can you do for a cold?

Good home treatment of a cold can help you feel better. When you get a cold:

  • Get extra rest. Slow down just a little from your usual routine. You don't need to stay home in bed, but try not to expose others to your cold.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. This can help soothe a sore throat and thin the mucus in your nose and lungs. Hot fluids—such as hot water, tea, or soup with a lot of broth—help relieve a stuffy nose and head.
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom and take hot showers to relieve a stuffy nose and head. Saline drops may also help thick or dried mucus to drain.
  • If you feel mucus in the back of your throat (postnasal drip), gargle with warm water. This will help make your throat feel better.
  • Use paper tissues, not handkerchiefs. This will help keep your cold from spreading.
  • If your nose gets red and raw, put a dab of petroleum jelly on the sore area.
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