A cold is a mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways. It can cause nasal stuffiness, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and a cough. Usually it's a self-limiting infection – this means it gets better by itself without the need for treatment.
On average, adults have two to five colds each year and school-age children can have up to eight colds a year. Adults who come into contact with children tend to get more colds. This is because children usually carry more of the virus, for longer.
In the UK, you’re more likely to get a cold during the winter months although the reasons why aren’t fully understood at present.
Treatment of a cold
For most people, a cold will get better on its own within a week of the symptoms starting without any specific treatment. However, there are treatments that can help to ease your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable. These are available from your pharmacy, which means that you can treat yourself, rather than needing to see your GP.
There is no cure for colds. Antibiotics, which treat infections caused by bacteria, don't work on cold viruses.
There are a number of self-help measures that may help to ease the symptoms of a cold.
- Drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Steam inhalations with menthol, salt water nasal sprays or drops may be helpful.
- Vapour rubs may help relieve symptoms for children.
- Hot drinks (particularly with lemon), hot soups and spicy foods can help to ease irritation and pain in your throat.
- Sucking sweets or lozenges which contain menthol or eucalyptus may sooth your throat.
- Gargling with salt water may help a sore throat.
You should try to make sure you get enough rest if you have a cold. It’s not usually necessary to stay off work or school.
NHS - is it the common cold or the flu?
Colds and flu can share some of the same symptoms (sneezing, coughing, sore throat) but are caused by different viruses, and flu can be much more serious. Find out.