- Health Library
- Research a Disease or Condition
- Lookup a Symptom
- Learn About a Test
- Prepare for a Surgery or Procedure
- What to do After Being Discharged
- Self-Care Instructions
- Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- Nutrition, Vitamins & Special Diets
Common cold - how to treat at home
Colds are very common. A visit to the doctor’s office is often not needed, and colds usually get better in 3 - 4 days.
A type of germ called a virus causes most colds. There are many types of viruses that can cause a cold. Depending on what virus you have, your symptoms may vary.
Common symptoms of a cold include:
- Fever (100 °F or higher) in chills
- Headache, sore muscles, and fatigue
- Nasal symptoms, such as stuffiness, runny nose, yellow or green snot, and sneezing,
- Sore throat
Treating your Cold
Treating your symptoms will not make your cold go away, but will help you feel better. Antibiotics are almost never needed to treat a common cold.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) help lower fever and relieve muscle aches.
- Do NOT use aspirin.
- Check the label for the proper dose.
- Call your doctor if you need to take these medicines more than 4 times per day or for more than 2 or 3 days.
Over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicines may help ease symptoms in adults and older children.
- They are not recommended for children under age 6. Talk to your doctor before giving your child OTC cold medicine, which can have serious side effects.
- Coughing is your body’s way of getting mucus out of your lungs. So use cough syrups only when your cough becomes too painful.
- Throat lozenges or sprays for your sore throat.
Many cough and cold medicines you buy have more than one medicine inside. Read the labels carefully to make sure you don't take too much of any one medicine. If you take prescription medications for another health problem, ask your health care provide which OTC cold medications are safe for you.
Drink plenty of fluids, get enough sleep, and stay away from secondhand smoke.
Wheezing can be a common symptom of a cold if you have asthma.
- Use rescue inhaler as prescribed if you are wheezing.
- See your doctor immediately if it becomes hard to breathe.
Many home remedies are popular treatments for the common cold. These include vitamin C, zinc supplements, and echinacea.
Although not well proven to help, most home remedies are safe for most people.
- However, some may cause side effects or allergic reactions.
- They may also change the way other medicines your health care provider has given you work.
- Talk to your health care provider before trying any herbs and supplements.
Preventing the Spread of Colds
Keep your hands clean by washing them often. This is the best way to stop the spread of germs.
To wash your hands correctly:
- Rub soap onto wet hands for 20 seconds. Make sure to get under your fingernails. Dry your hands with a clean paper towel and turn faucet off with paper towel.
- You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Use a dime size amount and rub all over your hands until they are dry.
Other tips to prevent colds:
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crease of your elbow, not into the air.
- Keep your vaccinations up to date.
When to Call the Doctor
Try treating your cold at home first. Call your health care provider right away, or go to the emergency room, if you have:
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden chest pain or abdominal pain
- Sudden dizziness
- Acting strangely
- Severe vomiting that does not go away
Also call your doctor if:
- You start acting strangely.
- Your symptoms get worse or do not improve after 7 - 10 days.
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.