The Common Cold

What Is It?

  • Colds, also known as Upper Respiratory Infections, are infections of the nose and throat that can be caused by several different viruses.
  • These infections are relatively harmless, but can make you feel miserable when you have it.
  • A cold may last for up to 10 – 14 days.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • Itchy, scratchy or sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever <102 F
  • Mild body aches
  • Headache
  • Hoarse voice


  • Unfortunately, nothing will “cure” a cold. It has to run its course. Because it is a virus, antibiotics will not work for a cold.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and cigarette smoke; these can cause dehydration and aggravate your symptoms.
  • Rest as much as you can. This will allow your body to use its energy to fight the virus instead of keeping up with your usual schedule.
  • Gargle with warm salt water several times a day. This will help decrease the irritation and swelling in your throat.
    • Over the counter medicines may be used to treat symptoms:
      Nasal decongestants, such as Afrin or Neo-Synephrine, work to decrease the swelling in your nose. These medicines work very well, but you need to remember that you cannot use these for more than 3 days in a row. They can cause a rebound swelling if used longer.
    • Decongestants such as Sudafed may help relieve that congestion and pressure. Remember not to take these medicines in addition to Nyquil since they both contain decongestants.
    • Medicines such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (Advil) can be taken to relieve fevers and pains.

When Should You Seek More Treatment?

Please come to the Student Health Center or see your Primary Care Provider if you have:

  • A fever >102 F
  • Fever accompanied by sweats and/or chills
  • High fever accompanied by body aches and fatigue
  • Ear pain
  • Symptoms that get worse instead of better after a week.
  • A flare up of any chronic lung problem, such as asthma

What Can You Do To Prevent A Cold?

  • Avoid close contact with people have a cold, especially during the first few days when they are most likely to spread the infection.
  • Wash your hands frequently; especially after touching someone who has a cold or touching anything that person may have touched or any time you blow your nose.
  • Have a separate hand towel in the bathroom for the sick person and the healthy people
  • Do not share any drinks, etc. with other people
  • Keep your fingers away from your nose and eyes to avoid infecting yourself with cold virus particles that you may have picked up
  • Do not inflict your cold on other people. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then throw the tissue away and wash your hands.

Cold Myths

  • Large doses of Vitamin C can prevent you from catching a cold:
    • These claims have not been proven, but it is important to your overall health to be sure to have the daily minimum dosage regularly.
  • Herbal remedies are an effective way to treat colds:
    • Echinacea and other herbs have had a lot of publicity. However, there is no scientific data that proves their effectiveness.
    • Zinc lozenges have scientific data showing that if taken when cold symptoms first begin they can decrease the length and severity of the cold.
  • Chicken soup is an effective way to treat a cold:
    • Hot liquids can soothe a scratchy throat, but chicken soup has no curative properties
  • “Starve a cold and feed a fever”
    • Fluids are definitely more important when you have a cold than foods are. You should be sure to drink plenty of water, juices, etc. Drink warm beverages to soothe your throat. You do not want to starve yourself; eat enough to satisfy your appetite.

Is it a cold or the flu?

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Mild Usually high, 102-104; Lasts 3-4 days
Headaches Rare Prominent
Body aches Mild Often severe
Fatigue, weakness Mild Usual, lasts up to 2-3 weeks
Extreme exhaustion Never Prominent early
Stuffy nose Common Occasional
Sneezing Usual Occasional
Sore throat Common Occasional
Chest discomfort, cough Mild to moderate, hacking cough Common, often severe