Cold Symptoms

A cold is an infection caused by a virus. The infection causes your upper respiratory system to become inflamed. Common symptoms of a cold include sneezing, dry throat, a stuffy nose, headache, watery eyes, and a cough. Your cough may be dry, or you may cough up mucus. You may also have muscle aches, joint pain, and tiredness. Rarely, you may have a fever. Most colds go away without treatment.


Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have increased tiredness and weakness.
  • You are unable to eat.
  • Your heart is beating much faster than usual for you.
  • You see white spots in the back of your throat and your neck is swollen and sore to the touch.
  • You see pinpoint or larger reddish-purple dots on your skin.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever higher than 102°F (38.9°C).
  • You have new or worsening shortness of breath.
  • You have thick nasal drainage for more than 2 days.
  • Your symptoms do not improve or get worse within 5 days.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


The following medicines may be suggested by your healthcare provider to decrease your cold symptoms. These medicines are available without a doctor's order. Ask which medicines to take and when to take them. Follow directions.

  • NSAIDs or acetaminophen help to bring down a fever or decrease pain.
  • Decongestants help decrease nasal stuffiness.
  • Antihistamines help decrease sneezing and a runny nose.
  • Cough suppressants help decrease how much you cough.
  • Expectorants help loosen mucus so you can cough it up.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Symptom relief:

The following may help relieve cold symptoms, such as a dry throat and congestion:

  • Gargle with mouthwash or warm salt water as directed.
  • Suck on throat lozenges or hard candy.
  • Use a cold or warm vaporizer or humidifier to ease your breathing.
  • Rest for at least 2 days and then as needed to decrease tiredness and weakness.
  • Use petroleum based jelly around your nostrils to decrease irritation from blowing your nose.

Drink liquids:

Liquids will help thin and loosen thick mucus so you can cough it up. Liquids will also keep you hydrated. Ask your healthcare provider which liquids are best for you and how much to drink each day.

Prevent the spread of germs:

You can spread your cold germs to others for at least 3 days after your symptoms start. Wash your hands often. Do not share items, such as eating utensils. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze using the crook of your elbow instead of your hands. Throw used tissues in the garbage.

Do not smoke:

Smoking may worsen your symptoms and increase the length of time you feel sick. Talk with your healthcare provider if you need help to stop smoking.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.