Common cold

Self care advice

The common cold is a mild viral infection that can cause symptoms, including a blocked and then runny nose, sneezing, cough, a sore throat, a slightly raised body temperature (fever) up to 39°C and feeling generally unwell.

Colds are harmless infections that in the vast majority of cases get better by themselves without any complications. Colds are very common, and adults get an average of two to four colds a year.

Complications, such as chest, ear and other infections, are rare. Most colds get better on their own without treatment and antibiotics are ineffective for treating the common cold and may cause side effects.

What can I do to get better?

  • Getting some rest until you feel better – we usually know when we’re well enough to return to normal activities.
  • Eating healthily, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to replace those lost from sweating and a runny nose.
  • Paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin can help reduce the symptoms of a cold. Avoid giving aspirin to children under the age of 16 and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Talk to your pharmacist about supplements that may help ease your symptoms.

When should I seek medical advice?

  • You develop a high temperature (above 39°C or 102.2°F), which can be a sign of a more serious type of infection.
  • You’re feeling confused or disorientated.
  • You notice a sharp pain in your chest.
  • You cough up blood-stained phlegm (thick mucus).
  • You find it difficult to breathe.
  • You notice a marked swelling of the glands in your neck and/or armpits.
  • Your symptoms last longer than three weeks.