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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Frequently Asked Questions About the Common Cold

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6. Should I get an antibiotic?

Antibiotics fight bacteria, but that won't help your cold, which is caused by a virus.

But your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if you have some complications. For instance, if your sinuses are blocked and can't drain properly, you can get inflammation and a bacterial infection. The symptoms may be a runny or stuffy nose, pain and pressure in your face, and a headache.

Also, you can sometimes get an ear infection after a cold, and you might need antibiotics to treat it. Symptoms include ear pain, fever, or a feeling of fullness in the ears.

7. Should I stay at home if I have a cold?

You're contagious for the first few days of your cold, so it's best to stay home then. You need to be careful about coughing and sneezing around other people. Also, you will get better quicker if you get some rest.

8. How can I prevent a cold?

Your best approach? Wash your hands. Both the flu and colds are passed around the same way. Someone sneezes or coughs, and tiny droplets with a virus are sprayed onto any nearby surface -- including you!

If people cough or sneeze into their hands without a tissue, they can spread the virus to every surface they touch. If you touch that same spot, you'll pick it up. If you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you've just infected yourself.

To protect yourself and prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If you don't have that nearby, use an alcohol-based gel.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue.
  • No tissue? When you cough, turn your head away from others.
  • If you have a sudden sneeze, bend your arm and sneeze into it.
  • Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Wash any shared surfaces, like phones and keyboards, frequently. Viruses can live on surfaces for several hours.
  • Stay away from crowds during cold and flu season.

9. Can you catch a cold from cold air?

This is one of the most persistent myths about colds. The only way you get sick is when you come into contact with a virus.

Cold air may irritate a condition you already have, like asthma, which could make your body more receptive to a cold virus. But you still need to come in contact with the virus.

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