There are over 200 different viruses that can cause colds. These viruses spread through the air when someone with a cold sneezes or coughs.
You can often treat a cold without seeing your GP. You should begin to feel better in about a week or two.
Cold symptoms come on gradually and can include:
- blocked or runny nose
- sore throat
- muscles aches
- high temperature
- pressure in your ears and face
- loss of taste and/or smell
The symptoms are the same in adults and children. Sometimes, symptoms last longer in children.
How you can treat a cold yourself
- rest and sleep
- keep warm
- drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- gargle salt water to soothe a sore throat
- Speak to your pharmacist about over the counter medicine such a decongestants and painkillers
See a GP if:
- your symptoms don’t improve after three weeks
- your symptoms get suddenly worse
- your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery
- you’re concerned about your child’s symptoms
- you’re finding it hard to breathe or develop chest pain
- you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes, or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
- you have a weakened immune system – for example, because you’re having chemotherapy
GPs don’t recommend antibiotics for colds because they won’t relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.
Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections and colds are caused by viruses.
How to avoid spreading a cold
- wash your hands often with warm water and soap
- use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
- bin used tissues as quickly as possible
Telling the difference between cold and flu
A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. The flu can also result in serious health problems such as pneumonia and hospitalizations.
A cough is a common reflex action that clears the throat of mucus or foreign irritants. Coughing to clear the throat is typically an infrequent action, although a number of conditions can cause more frequent bouts of coughing.
In general, a cough that lasts for less than three weeks is an acute cough.
A cough that lasts between 3 and 8 weeks, improving by the end of that period, is a subacute cough.
A persistent cough that lasts more than eight weeks is a chronic cough.
Most cough episodes will clear up, or at least significantly improve, within two weeks. If you cough up blood or have a “barking” cough, talk to your doctor. Any cough that hasn’t improved after a few weeks may be serious, and you should see a doctor.