Common Cold

About 30 million Americans are coughing, sneezing, and blowing their noses while you read this. What’s wrong with them? They have the most common illness we know, the common cold. The common cold usually lasts 3 to 7 days and the average person gets 3 or 4 colds a year.

The things that come with a cold are:

  • Sneezing.
  • Runny nose.
  • Fever of 101oF or less.
  • Sore throat.
  • Dry cough.

How do we get colds? Colds are caused by viruses. You can get a cold virus from mucus on a person’s hands when they have a cold, such as through a hand shake. You can also pick up the viruses on towels, telephones, money, etc. Them someone else picks them up from you. It goes on and on. Cold viruses also travel through coughs and sneezes.


  • Wash your hands often. Keep them away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Try not to touch people or their things when they have a cold, especially the first 2-3 days they have the cold. This is the most contagious stage.
  • Get lots of exercise. Eat and sleep well.
  • Use a handkerchief or tissues when you sneeze, cough, or blow your nose. This helps keep you from passing cold viruses to others.
  • Use a “cool mist” vaporizer in your bedroom in the winter.

Self-Care Tips

Time is the only cure for a cold. These things may make you feel better.

  • Rest in bed if you have a fever.
  • Drink lots of liquids. They help clear out your respiratory tract. This can help prevent other problems, like bronchitis.
  • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium for muscle aches and pains. [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]
  • Use salt water drops to relieve nasal congestion. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water. Place in a clean container. Put 3 to 4 drops into each nostril several times a day, with a clean medicine dropper.

If you have a sore throat:

  • Gargle every few hours with a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of salt dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water.
  • Drink tea with lemon (with or without honey).
  • Suck on a piece of hard candy or medicated lozenge every so often. (Do not give to children under age 5).
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the room.
  • Have chicken soup. It helps clear out mucus.
  • Check with your doctor before trying vitamin C. It seems to make some people feel better when they have a cold and may help keep them from getting a cold, even though this has never been medically proven.

Questions to Ask

Are any of these problems present with the cold?

  • Chest pain that doesn’t go away
  • Quick breathing or trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling weak or with no energy
  • Delirium – delirium can make you restless or confused. Sometimes you see things that aren’t there

Yes: See Doctor

Do you have any of these problems with the cold?

  • Earache
  • Bright red sore throat, or sore throat with white spots
  • Coughing for 10 or more days
  • Coughing up something that is thick, yellow-green, gray or rust colored
  • Fever of 104oF in a child under 12 years old
  • Fever of over 103oF in an adult, under 50 years old
  • Fever of 102oF or greater in a person 50-60 years old
  • Fever of 101oF or greater in a person over 60 years old
  • A bad smell from the throat, nose or ears

Yes: See Doctor

Do you have pain or swelling over your sinuses that gets worse when you bend over or move your head, especially with a fever of 101oF or higher.
Yes: See Doctor
Provide Self-Care

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021