Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Colds
Everyone gets a
cold from time to time. Children get more colds than adults.
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
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.
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
Be careful with cold medicines. They may not be safe for young children, so check the label first. If you do give these medicines to a child, always follow the directions about how much to give based on the child's age and weight. 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
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
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.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerDavid Messenger, MD
Current as ofAugust 21, 2015
Current as of:
August 21, 2015
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & David Messenger, MD
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.