Care of the Common Cold


The common cold is caused by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract--the nose, throat, head, and chest. Most colds last about 7 to 11 days and will gradually disappear with proper self-care. Medical science has not found the “cure” for the common cold but this brochure describes some measures you can follow to minimize your discomfort.


Symptoms of a cold may include a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and cough, a headache and mild fever, as well as general fatigue and malaise.


No known medication will shorten the duration of a cold; antibiotics are ineffective against the cold virus and flu shots will neither help nor prevent a cold. Non-prescription medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, cough syrups, and aspirin can provide relief for the symptoms produced by the infection, but should be used judiciously and according to package instructions. Listed below are self-care suggestions for making yourself more comfortable during a cold and for preventing the onset of serious complications

  • Rest and stay warm; increase your hours of sleep.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Increase your intake of fluids to relieve cough, tightness, and fever.
  • Gargle with warm salt water to ease the discomfort of a sore throat.
  • Use hard candies or cough drops to soothe a dry throat and to inhibit coughing.
  • Inhale steam from a hot bath or shower to relieve congestion in your nose, head, and chest.
  • Take two Tylenol every four to five hours to help relieve the fever, aches and pains. You may also use Ibuprofen in place of Tylenol.
  • Avoid close contact during physical exercise until your symptoms disappear.
  • Avoid smoking during your cold, as it will cause further irritation to your upper respiratory tract.


Medical treatment is rarely needed for a common cold; however, if you develop any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical attention, since these complications may indicate a more serious infection:

  • Prolonged fever over 101 F
  • Persistent or thick mucus-producing cough
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Persistent earache or headache
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat


Cold viruses can be transmitted by airborne saliva, so be sure to cover your cough or sneeze. Avoid close physical contact with others.

Medical Treatment

If your symptoms persist or worsen despite good self-care, medical treatment is available at the Student Health Center at (970) 351-2412.