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Colds and Nasal Congestion

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The common cold is a mild viral infection. Cold symptoms come on gradually and can include:

  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Coughs
  • Sneezing
  • A raised temperature
  • Pressure in your ears and face
  • Loss of taste and smell

Symptoms are the same in adults and children and can sometimes last longer in children.

All these symptoms can be treated at home, without the need to visit your GP or antibiotics.

Antibiotics are ineffective for treating the common cold; 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 can I manage my condition?

Common colds are treatable with some simple measures. To help you get better more quickly:

  • Rest and sleep
  • Keep warm
  • Drink plenty of water – To avoid dehydration (fruit juice or squash mixed with water is ok).
  • Diet and fluids – Eat healthily, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

You can buy cough and cold medicines from pharmacies or supermarkets. Below is a list of symptoms and possible home remedies/ over-the-counter treatments. Speak to your pharmacist for advice if you’re not sure which type of medicine is best for you and your symptoms:

  • Blocked or runny nose – You can relieve using decongestant sprays/ tablets or inhalation of steam.
  • Headaches, muscle aches, a raised temperature – You can ease aches or lower a temperature with painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen.
  • Sore throat – You can use pain killers to relieve symptoms. There is not enough good quality evidence to recommend non-prescription gargles, lozenges and throat sprays, however you may still find them helpful.
  • Coughs – You can try simple home remedies, such as ‘honey and lemon’ drinks. There is little evidence to say whether over-the-counter medicines are effective for relieving cough symptoms, however you may still find them helpful.

Be careful not to use cough and cold medicines if you’re taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets as they often also contain these ingredients and it’s easy to take more than the recommended dose.

Some treatments are not suitable for children, babies, and pregnant women. Speak to your pharmacist for alternatives.

Always speak to your pharmacist for advice before starting any cough and cold over-the-counter treatments if you take any other over-the-counter medications/ are prescribed medications by your doctor.

How can I avoid triggers/ suggested lifestyle changes?

The best ways to avoid catching a cold are:

  • Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with warm water and soap
  • Not sharing towels or household items (like cups) with someone who has a cold
  • Not touching your eyes or nose in case you’ve come into contact with the virus – it can infect the body this way
  • Staying fit and healthy

There’s little evidence that supplements such as vitamin c, zinc, echinacea or garlic will prevent colds or speed up recovery.

The flu vaccine helps prevent the flu but not colds.

How to avoid spreading a cold?

Colds are caused by viruses and easily spread to other people. You’re infectious from a few days before your symptoms begin through until all your symptoms have gone. This usually takes a week or two.

Colds are spread by germs from coughs and sneezes which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours. To reduce the risk of spreading a cold:

  • Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
  • Use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze placing used tissues in a bin as quickly as possible followed by washing your hands.

When should I seek advice?

Most colds are not serious and get better by themselves. Contact NHS 111 or your GP surgery for urgent advice if you notice one or more of the following:

  • You develop a high temperature (above 39°C or 102.2°F), which can be a sign of a more serious type of infection
  • You’re feeling confused or disorientated
  • You notice a sharp pain in your chest
  • You cough up blood-stained phlegm (thick mucus)
  • You find it difficult to breathe
  • You notice a marked swelling of the glands in your neck and/ or armpits
  • Your symptoms last longer than three weeks

Where can I get more information?

  • NHS Choices –
  • Your local community pharmacy
Last Updated: Wednesday 26th April 2023 - 11:20:am

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