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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Colds
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Everyone gets a cold from time to time. Children get more colds than adults.
Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks. You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they are more common in late winter and early spring.
There is no cure for a cold. Antibiotics will not cure a cold. If you catch a cold, treat the symptoms.
Lots of different viruses cause colds, but the symptoms are usually the same:
You will probably feel a cold come on over the course of a couple of days. As the cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker mucus.
A cold is not the same as the flu (influenza). Flu symptoms are worse and come on faster. If you have the flu, you may feel very tired. You may also have a fever and shaking chills, lots of aches and pains, a headache, and a cough.
If you feel like you have a cold all the time, or if cold symptoms last more than 2 weeks, you may have allergies or sinusitis. Call your doctor.
Good home treatment of a cold can help you feel better. When you get a cold:
You may decide to try a cough, cold, or allergy medicine for your symptoms. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Don't take cold medicine that uses several drugs to treat different symptoms. For example, don't take medicine that contains both a decongestant for a stuffy nose and a cough medicine. Treat each symptom on its own.
Be careful with cough and cold medicines. Don't give them to children younger than 6, because they don't work for children that age and can even be harmful. For children 6 and older, always follow all the instructions carefully. Make sure you know how much medicine to give and how long to use it. And use the dosing device if one is included. For more information, see Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children.
Some people try dietary supplements to prevent colds or to shorten their cold symptoms. Before using any treatment for your cold symptoms, it is important to consider the risks and benefits of the treatment. For more information, see the topic Complementary Medicine. Some of the medicines being studied are:
If you decide to use an alternative medicine or supplement, follow these precautions:
Call your doctor if:
There are several things you can do to help prevent colds:
Singh M, Das RR (2011). Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
Davidson TM, Smith WM (2010). The Bradford Hill criteria and zinc-induced anosmia: A causality analysis. Archives of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 136(7): 673–676.
Current as of:
February 24, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineJohn Pope MD - PediatricsE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of: February 24, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & John Pope MD - Pediatrics & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
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