Common cold

  • Alternative Names

    Upper respiratory infection - viral; Cold


    Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids.


    Over-the-counter cold and cough medicines may help ease symptoms in adults and older children. They do not make your cold go away faster, but can help you feel better.

    Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines are not recommended for children under age 6. Talk to your doctor before giving your child any type of over-the-counter or nonprescription cough medicine, even if the label says it is made for children. These medicines likely will not work for children, and may have serious side effects.


    Antibiotics should not be used to treat a common cold. They will not help and may make the situation worse. Thick yellow or green nasal discharge normally occurs with a cold after a few days. If it does not get better within 10 to 14 days, then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.


    Newer antiviral drugs used to relieve flu symptoms do not help reduce cold symptoms.


    Alternative treatments that have been used for colds include:

    • Chicken soup
    • Vitamin C
    • Zinc
    • Echinacea

    Chicken soup has been used for treating common colds for centuries. It may really help. The heat, fluid, and salt may help you fight the infection.

    Vitamin C is a popular remedy for the common cold. Research shows it does not prevent colds in many adults, but people who take vitamin C regularly seem to have slightly shorter colds and milder symptoms. Taking vitamin C after your have a cold doesn't seem to be helpful.

    Zinc supplements taken for at least 5 days may reduce your risk of catching the common cold. Taking a zinc supplement within 24 hours of when you first feel sick may make your cold symptoms less severe and help them go away faster.

    Echinacea is a herb that has been promoted as a natural way for preventing colds and the flu, and for making symptoms less severe. However, high-quality studies have failed to show that this herb helps prevent or treat colds.

    Alternative treatments are safe for most people. However, some alternative treatments may cause side effects or allergic reactions. For example, some people are allergic to echinacea. Herbs and supplements may also change the way other medicines work. Talk to your doctor before trying an alternative treatment.

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    Expectations (prognosis)

    The fluid from your runny nose will become thicker and may turn yellow or green within a few days. This is normal, and not a reason for antibiotics.

    Most cold symptoms usually go away within a week. If you still feel sick after 7 days, see your doctor to rule out a sinus infection, allergies, or other medical problem.


    Colds are the most common trigger of asthma symptoms in children with asthma.

    A cold may also lead to:

    • Bronchitis
    • Ear infection
    • Pneumonia
    • Sinusitis

    Calling your health care provider

    Try treating your cold at home first. Call your doctor if:

    • Breathing becomes difficult
    • Your symptoms get worse or do not improve after 7 to 10 days