Common Cold

Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Common cold treatment

There are a number of ways in which you may be able to treat the symptoms of the common cold, both medicinal and practical, that begin with supportive care. Taking medications for symptom management can help, too.

Relieving common cold symptoms

Besides taking medication, you can do the following to try and improve your symptoms and shorten the duration of the common cold:

  • Get lots of rest: When you’re sick, your body works overtime to fight off the infection. The common cold can be draining. Although you’ll likely feel tired already, it’s a good idea to get more sleep than normal in order to give your body time to recover.
  • Stay hydrated: It’s important to drink plenty of water when you are fighting a cold. Staying hydrated helps your body fight off the infection. Dehydration, especially when sick, can be dangerous. Avoid alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas, as these can all worsen dehydration.
  • Combat congestion: Over-the-counter nasal sprays can help relieve congestion. In infants, it’s recommended that several saline drops are put into nostrils, followed by gentle suction with a bulb syringe to remove mucus.
  • Soothe a sore throat: For 5-year-olds to adolescents, we recommend sucking on hard candy, which is just as effective as lozenges, but is less expensive and less likely to have side effects (throat drops and hard candy should not be given to children 4 years old and younger, as they pose a choking hazard). Aside from throat drops and sprays and over-the-counter pain relievers, a saltwater gargle can temporarily alleviate a sore throat. Dissolve ¼ to ½ teaspoon of sea salt in 8 ounces of warm water, and gargle for 30 seconds to a minute. Children under 6 years of age are not likely to be able to gargle properly. Drinking warm beverages and sucking on ice chips—as well as eating cold or frozen desserts, like ice cream or popsicles— can also provide temporary relief from throat pain.
  • Sip warm liquids: A commonly used home remedy for the cold is chicken soup. This is likely because warm liquids, including tea, can soothe sore throats and loosen a stuffy nose by increasing the flow of mucus. Many parents often ask whether it’s okay to give their infants (1 year old or younger) warm water or tea with honey to soothe their throats. While warm water is fine, tea is not recommended (as it can contain caffeine), and honey can be risky for children younger than 1 year old because of the possibility of contamination with C. botulinum bacteria (which can potentially lead to infant botulism).
  • Add moisture to your environment: A humidifier can help remedy dry air that may cause irritation to the nose and throat. You can also run a hot shower without ventilation and breathe in the steam to provide some relief for congestion or lungs irritated by a dry cough.

Over-the-Counter Painkillers

Many people will take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for a sore throat or headache. Talk to your provider before providing over-the-counter medications to your child, as some medications contain ingredients that aren’t suitable for children under a certain age.

To avoid damage to your liver, note that there is a recommended maximum daily acetaminophen dose of 4 grams per day in adults and 75 mg/kg per day in children.

The following can be taken to alleviate pain associated with the common cold:

  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): used to treat pain and fever. Includes ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Some ibuprofen is made specifically for older children (Children’s Advil, Children’s Motrin, etc.).
  • Acetaminophen: a pain reliever and fever reducer (Tylenol, Children’s Tylenol).

Common cold medicines

Some over-the-counter medications can help alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms associated with a cold. There is a large number of combination products that can be used to relieve various cold symptoms, such as Dayquil, Nyquil, and Robitussin.

As always, it’s important that you read all labels and use medications as directed. Discuss your symptoms with your pharmacist so they can assist in selecting the best over-the-counter cold medication for you.

Is there a common cold cure?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold. There is no vaccine for the common cold, either.

Along with taking medication, you can make yourself feel better by getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids.

Because the common cold is caused by a virus, not a bacteria, antibiotics are not effective in treating colds. In fact, trying to treat a cold with antibiotics could be harmful—taking antibiotics when they are not needed can make it harder to fight bacterial infections in the future. Of course, if your healthcare provider has diagnosed you with a cold as well as another bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection.

May be prescribed

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When to call your healthcare provider

You should call your provider if you have a cold and:

  • You notice an inability to swallow (dysphagia)
  • You have a sore throat
  • You have an earache
  • You have a stiff neck or sensitivity to bright lights
  • You’re pregnant or nursing
  • Your throat hurts and your temperature is 101°F (38.3 °C) or higher
  • Your cold symptoms worsen after the 3rd day (you may have a bacterial infection)
  • Your newborn or infant shows symptoms of a cold (the primary symptom in children is a fever)

These may be signs of a more serious condition or secondary infection.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.