How to treat and prevent a common cold

This article was medically reviewed by David Nazarian, MD. Dr. David Nazarian is a board certified Internal Medicine Physician and the Owner of My Concierge MD, a medical practice in Beverly Hills California, specializing in concierge medicine, executive health and integrative medicine. Dr. Nazarian specializes in comprehensive physical examinations, IV Vitamin therapies, hormone replacement therapy, weight loss, platelet rich plasma therapies. He has over 16 years of medical training and facilitation and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine. He completed his B.S. in Psychology and Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles, his M.D. from the Sackler School of Medicine, and a residency at Huntington Memorial Hospital, an affiliate of the University of Southern California.

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The common cold is a highly contiguous virus that infects your nose and throat. Colds are very common, especially in children. You can expect a child to get a cold six to 10 times a year if in daycare or school; adults typically get a cold two to four times a year. Although it is usually harmless, with symptoms that include a runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, mild headache, low-grade fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, congestion, and cough, it may not feel so harmless. There is no cure for the common cold (it is not treatable with antibiotics) and most people will recover in approximately a week or two. Through self-care measures, including getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids, you may feel more comfortable as your body fights off the infection. [1] X Trustworthy Source Mayo Clinic Educational website from one of the world’s leading hospitals Go to source

In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

  • Prevent Colds With Frequent Hand Washing
  • Natural Tips for Preventing the Common Cold
  • Common Cold Prevention at School

If you’re sick of being sick with a cold, then it’s time to learn some cold prevention techniques. There are ways to prevent a cold. You just need to learn and use some new behaviors and lifestyle habits, every day. Here is how you can stay well.

Prevent Colds With Frequent Hand Washing

Your best protection from the common cold and flu is frequent hand washing. The simple friction that occurs when you rub skin against skin while using warm water and soap followed by thorough rinsing and drying can get rid of most potentially harmful germs.

While germs are often transferred to others through household objects — telephones, doorknobs, toothbrushes, and faucet handles — the biggest transportation center for germs is your hands. That’s why frequent hand washing gets rid of the illness-causing germs and helps to prevent the spread of some diseases — especially if a family member, friend, or classmate has a cold or flu virus.

The CDC estimates that as many as 56,000 people die from the flu or flu-like illness each year. The CDC also says the simple act of hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of viral and bacterial infections. Yet some studies reveal that many Americans using public restrooms don’t wash their hands before leaving. People also forget to wash their hands before preparing meals, and they grab snacks without thinking of washing their hands beforehand. If you want to help prevent colds, just stop — and wash your hands.

Natural Tips for Preventing the Common Cold

You can’t cure a common cold. The best thing you can do is prevent catching the virus that causes the common cold.

For in-depth information, see WebMD’s 8 Natural Tips to Prevent a Cold.

Common Cold Prevention at School

Kids lose about 22 million school days collectively because of the cold virus. If you’re a parent, you know how a cold can run through a family, making everyone miserable. But there are some excellent tips to stop germs at school.


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Common Cold.”
FDA: “What to Do for Colds and Flu.”
American Lung Association: “A Survival Guide for Preventing and Treating Influenza and the Common Cold.”

National Jewish Medical and Research Center: “Is it a Cold or the Flu?”

How to treat and prevent a common cold

Sore throat and runny nose are usually the first signs of a cold, followed by coughing and sneezing. Most people recover in about 7-10 days. You can help reduce your risk of getting a cold: wash your hands often, avoid close contact with sick people, and don’t touch your face with unwashed hands.

Common colds are the main reason that children miss school and adults miss work. Each year in the United States, there are millions of cases of the common cold. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more.

Most people get colds in the winter and spring, but it is possible to get a cold any time of the year. Symptoms usually include:

  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • headaches
  • body aches

Most people recover within about 7-10 days. However, people with weakened immune systems, asthma, or respiratory conditions may develop serious illness, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

How to treat and prevent a common cold
Help reduce your risk of getting a cold by washing hands often with soap and water.

How to Protect Yourself

Viruses that cause colds can spread from infected people to others through the air and close personal contact. You can also get infected through contact with stool (poop) or respiratory secretions from an infected person. This can happen when you shake hands with someone who has a cold, or touch a surface, like a doorknob, that has respiratory viruses on it, then touch your eyes, mouth, or nose.

You can help reduce your risk of getting a cold:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash them for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Viruses that cause colds can live on your hands, and regular handwashing can help protect you from getting sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Viruses that cause colds can enter your body this way and make you sick.
  • Stay away from people who are sick. Sick people can spread viruses that cause the common cold through close contact with others.

How to treat and prevent a common cold
Practice good cough and sneeze etiquette: always cough and sneeze into a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, completely covering your mouth and nose.

How to Protect Others

If you have a cold, you should follow these tips to help prevent spreading it to other people:

  • Stay at home while you are sick and keep children out of school or daycare while they are sick.
  • Avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.
  • Move away from people before coughing or sneezing.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue then throw it away, or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve, completely covering your mouth and nose.
  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as toys, doorknobs, and mobile devices.

There is no vaccine to protect you against the common cold.

How to Feel Better

There is no cure for a cold. To feel better, you should get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medicines may help ease symptoms but will not make your cold go away any faster. Always read the label and use medications as directed. Talk to your doctor before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines, since some medicines contain ingredients that are not recommended for children. Learn more about symptom relief of upper respiratory infections, including colds.

Antibiotics will not help you recover from a cold caused by a respiratory virus. They do not work against viruses, and they may make it harder for your body to fight future bacterial infections if you take them unnecessarily. Learn more about when antibiotics work.

When to See a Doctor

You should call your doctor if you or your child has one or more of these conditions:

  • symptoms that last more than 10 days
  • symptoms that are severe or unusual
  • if your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a fever or is lethargic

You should also call your doctor right away if you are at high risk for serious flu complications and get flu symptoms such as fever, chills, and muscle or body aches. People at high risk for flu complications include young children (younger than 5 years old), adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
Your doctor can determine if you or your child has a cold or the flu and can recommend treatment to help with symptoms.

Causes of the Common Cold

Many different respiratory viruses can cause the common cold, but rhinoviruses are the most common. Rhinoviruses can also trigger asthma attacks and have been linked to sinus and ear infections. Other viruses that can cause colds include respiratory syncytial virus, human parainfluenza viruses, adenovirus, common human coronaviruses, and human metapneumovirus.

Know the Difference between Common Cold and Flu

The flu, which is caused by influenza viruses, also spreads and causes illness around the same time as the common cold. Because these two illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, flu symptoms are worse than the common cold and can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Flu can also have very serious complications. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccination as the first and best way to prevent the flu. If you get the flu, antiviral drugs may be a treatment option.

Colds are very common. A visit to your health care provider’s office is often not needed, and colds often get better in 3 to 4 days.

A type of germ called a virus causes most colds. There are many types of viruses that can cause a cold. Depending on what virus you have, your symptoms may vary.

Common symptoms of a cold include:

  • Fever (100В°F [37.7В°C] or higher) and chills
  • Headache, sore muscles, and fatigue
  • Cough
  • Nasal symptoms, such as stuffiness, runny nose, yellow or green snot, and sneezing
  • Sore throat

Mild symptoms of COVID-19 may be similar to those of the common cold. Always check with your health provider if you are at risk for COVID-19.

Treating Your Cold

Treating your symptoms will not make your cold go away, but will help you feel better. Antibiotics are almost never needed to treat a common cold.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) help lower fever and relieve muscle aches.

  • Do not use aspirin.
  • Check the label for the proper dose.
  • Call your provider if you need to take these medicines more than 4 times per day or for more than 2 or 3 days.

Over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicines may help ease symptoms in adults and older children.

  • They are not recommended for children under age 6. Talk to your provider before giving your child OTC cold medicine, which can have serious side effects.
  • Coughing is your body’s way of getting mucus out of your lungs. So use cough syrups only when your cough becomes too painful.
  • Throat lozenges or sprays for your sore throat.

Many cough and cold medicines you buy have more than one medicine inside. Read the labels carefully to make sure you do not take too much of any one medicine. If you take prescription medicines for another health problem, ask your provider which OTC cold medicines are safe for you.

Drink plenty of fluids, get enough sleep, and stay away from secondhand smoke.

Wheezing can be a common symptom of a cold if you have asthma.

  • Use your rescue inhaler as prescribed if you are wheezing.
  • See your provider immediately if it becomes hard to breathe.

Home Remedies

Many home remedies are popular treatments for the common cold. These include vitamin C, zinc supplements, and echinacea.

Although not proven to be helpful, most home remedies are safe for most people.

  • Some remedies may cause side effects or allergic reactions.
  • Certain remedies may change the way other medicines work.
  • Talk to your provider before trying any herbs and supplements.

Preventing the Spread of Colds

Wash your hands often. This is the best way to stop the spread of germs.

To wash your hands correctly:

  • Rub soap onto wet hands for 20 seconds. Make sure to get under your fingernails. Dry your hands with a clean paper towel and turn faucet off with paper towel.
  • You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Use a dime size amount and rub all over your hands until they are dry.

To further prevent colds:

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crook of your elbow and not into the air.

When to Call the Doctor

Try treating your cold at home first. Call your provider right away, or go to the emergency room, if you have:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden chest pain or abdominal pain
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Acting strangely
  • Severe vomiting that does not go away

Also call your provider if:

  • You start acting strangely
  • Your symptoms get worse or do not improve after 7 to 10 days

The Common Cold & Flu

How to treat and prevent a common cold

As sure as the summer becomes fall, cold season arrives every year. When kids go back to school and office decorations switch to their winter wear and everyone starts spending more time inside, knowing how to help prevent the common cold is an important step toward keeping yourself and your family healthy while infection rates are on the rise.

Cold Prevention that Works

Prevention is the best line of defense against the common cold. Luckily, preventing a cold is simpler than treating it—and includes daily activities you already practice: i

  • Wash your hands. Wash hands when you typically would—before meals, after using the washroom—but take that hand washing a step further during cold season. Make sure you’re washing with warm to hot water for at least 20 seconds. In a pinch, hand sanitizer will do, too.
  • Don’t touch your face. Sure, you may need to touch your face sometimes throughout the course of the day, but try to do it only when necessary and only with washed hands. Avoid your nose, eyes, and mouth especially, as these are spots where the cold virus can find its way into your system most easily.
  • Avoid those who have the cold already. The cold virus spreads easily through contact with a symptomatic person. Schools, offices, public transit, grocery stores—these are all places where it’s possible to come into contact with someone who has the common cold.

How to Treat a Cold

Put those antibiotics down. The cold is a virus—it cannot be treated with antibiotics.

The truth is, there is no cure for the common cold. If prevention efforts didn’t work and you still find yourself experiencing symptoms, easing those symptoms is the best you can do until the cold has run its course. Ways you can take care of your cold symptoms (and yourself) include:

  • Rest up. Don’t push yourself too hard. Take time off if you can, and don’t over-exert yourself.
  • Stay hydrated. Water and non-sugary drinks are your best friends right now. Warm liquids are also helpful for soothing sore throats.[i]
  • Try over-the-counter medications to ease symptoms like pain and stuffiness. While you can’t prevent a cold with OTC medicines, you can seek symptom relief. Depending on age and symptoms, Advil® Multi-Symptom Cold & Flu or Advil® Cold & Sinus may be appropriate options.
  • Try a humidifier. Adding moisture to the air can help soothe dry sinuses and may loosen congestion.[ii]

  • How to treat and prevent a common cold

Drink Water, Stay Hydrated to Prevent and Treat the Common Cold

Drinking water to prevent and treat the common cold has been shown to be of absolute utmost importance. If you don’t want to get sick or suffer with worsening allergy flare ups, you gotta make sure you are drinking enough water each and every day. According to Dr. Charles Davis of

The drainage of mucous from the sinuses can also be impaired by thickening of the mucous secretions, by decrease in hydration (water content)…

Think about it this way. You are exposed to allergens, bacteria and viruses every second of the day. They live on your skin, are in the air you breath and are on every single thing you touch. Sure, you must wash your hands and use hand sanitizing lotion, and some may hold their breath while in the elevator with a sneezy person, but you are still the minority in the world of trillions of microscopic organisms and substances that can make you sick.

Your advantage- the immune system. Your body’s military is ready to deploy at the first sign of invasion. However, these cells are like predator fish. They need water to be able to travel through your body efficiently. If the river flowing through your blood vessels are thick, those military cells have difficulty reaching their destination. Therefore, remaining in a state of dehydration can significantly increase your risk of getting sick.

We know that for fact you cannot catch a cold from simply being in cold weather. Researchers have hypothesized that people spend more times indoors with each other, which allows an easier spread of pathogens through air, touch, etc. I’m not too sure I buy this theory because most of us are indoors most of the day regardless of the season. It makes more sense to me that most of us do not drink as much water in the winter because of cooler temperatures. Personally, I hate drinking cold water when it is chilly. As it turns out, this mild level of dehydration may put you at risk.

Keep it simple and devise a plan to drink water throughout the day. If you have not had any water within the past hour, you need to drink. Always start and end your day with a least half a cup of water. Down a full glass during every meal and drink with every snack. If you drink alcohol, you may need to drink more water to counter the dehydrating effects with a few extra glasses.

Two general rules to know when you need to drink water:

  1. If your urine is yellow to dark yellow- drink more.
  2. If you are thirsty, then you are already dehydrated.

Always be sure to ask your doctor about your drinking habits if you have a heart or kidney problems.

Otherwise, keep drinking and enjoy the many health benefits of nature’s best.

What do you do to keep yourself from getting sick? Leave your healthy tip in the Facebook comments section below!

One day you’re fine. The next you have a scratchy throat, watery eyes, and a runny nose. There’s a tickle in the back of your throat, and your normally high energy is nowhere to be found.

Yes, these are early signs that you’re coming down with something. But don’t grab your tissue box and hop into bed just yet — there are ways to nip that cold in the bud.

Rest and Cut Your Stress

There’s a “mind-body” link when it comes to fighting off a cold, says Irene M. Estores, MD, of University of Florida Health. If you feel tired, overworked, sad, or angry, those emotions can sink your mood. That can slow your immune system just when you need it running at full power to fight the cold virus.

Listen to your body when you feel a cold coming on. Get all the sleep you can. Try to manage on your stress, too. “When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to get a cold,” Estores says.

Usually when you feel a cold coming on, your immune system jumps in and fights the virus. But too much stress cuts the number of cells that make up the front lines of defense. Stress also pumps up the level of cortisol in your body. This hormone zaps your immune system, and that makes you an easier target for a cold.

So do something that relaxes you: Listen to music, meditate, or do a light workout. And remember to rest, Estores says. Your body needs that, too.

Drink Up

When you have a stuffy head or nose, fluids are your friend. They’ll help unclog your nose and thin any mucus so you can cough or blow it out, says Jean Carstensen, MD, who teaches medicine and pediatrics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Keep a full glass close by. As long as it doesn’t have alcohol or caffeine in it, any drink will help keep you hydrated. But plain water is best, Carstensen says.

If you feel feverish, drink even more. A high temperature can dehydrate you as you sweat.

Sip Hot Tea and Honey

Drinking warm liquids helps to open up your stuffy nose and soothe a sore throat. Hot tea with a little bit of honey can hush a cough. But don’t give honey to children under 1 year old. If it contains bacteria called clostridium, it can cause botulism and make your little one very sick.

Act Fast

If you can’t hold off a cold, it’ll take 5-7 days for your symptoms to improve, Carstensen says.

To feel better until it fades, start with over-the-counter medications like antihistamines with decongestants. You can take pain medicine like ibuprofen and acetaminophen for aches and pains.В

Don’t give a child younger than 4 years any cough or cold medicine, due to safety risks in children that young. For older children, teens, or even adults, make sure you follow all dosing instructions on the label.В


Irene M. Estores, MD, medical director, integrative medicine program, University of Florida Health.

Jean C. Carstensen, MD, clinical instructor of internal medicine and pediatrics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others.”

Cohen, S. Psychological Science, September 2003.

Harvard Health Publications: “Using the relaxation response to reduce stress.”

Cohen, S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2012.

How to treat and prevent a common cold

People who get the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines produce immune system cells that protect against the common the cold.

That’s the conclusion a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine.[1]

The scientists took blood samples from 30 healthy subjects before and after they had two doses of one or the other of the vaccines. The researchers then analyzed immune cells in the samples known at CD4+ T cells. They are also known as “helper” cells.[2]

They get their nickname because they help other immune cells respond to invading viruses.

Helper cells defend against viruses by sending out chemical messengers that attract another type of immune cell called killer T cells. Killer T cells remove virus-infected cells from the body.

COVID Shots Protect Against Variants… And Possibly Colds

There was good news when scientists analyzed helper cells in subjects after they were fully vaccinated. Researchers found that their helper cells recognized coronavirus variants from the U.K. and South Africa. That means current vaccines should remain effective as these strains become prevalent.

And the scientists found more good news…

The helper cells produced by the vaccines protect against a prevalent form of the common cold. It’s called HCoV-NL63. It’s related to COVID-19. It’s a type of cold that primarily strikes seniors and children. It usually causes only mild symptoms that are typically associated with colds. But in rare cases, it can lead to pneumonia or bronchitis.[3]

The researchers don’t know why the vaccines protect against this type of cold. But they think the cold virus shares some peptides with the COVID-19 virus. Peptides are the building blocks of proteins that make up a virus.

Dr. Joel Blankson is senior author of the study. He is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “We suspect that HCoV-NL63 may have more (peptides) in common with COVID-19 than other common cold viruses,” said.[4]

The study did not look at people who took the other shot that is available in the U.S., the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. So we don’t know if the J&J shot offers similar cold protection.

Vaccines Can Fight Diseases Other Than Their Target

It may seem strange that a vaccine designed to stop one illness can protect you from another. This is called “cross-protection.” Actually, it’s not unusual.

One of the first examples of cross-protection was noted by Russian researchers in the 1950s. They found that people who got the polio vaccine were less likely to get the flu.[5]

In the 1960s, the tuberculosis vaccine was found to protect against bladder cancer. It is still used to treat bladder cancer today.

And a recent study in the Netherlands found that people who received the flu shot are 39% less likely to get infected with coronavirus than people who did not get the flu vaccine.[6]

The bottom line?

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines appear to work well against coronavirus variants—and they may provide bonus protection against the common cold.