Common cold

Check if you have a cold

Cold symptoms come on gradually over 2 to 3 days.

The main symptoms include:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • sneezing
  • a sore throat
  • a hoarse voice
  • a cough
  • feeling tired and unwell

You may also have:

  • a high temperature
  • aching muscles
  • a loss of taste and smell
  • a feeling of pressure in your ears and face

Symptoms of a cold can last longer in young children. They may also be irritable, have difficulty feeding and sleeping, breathe through their mouth, and get sick after coughing.

How you can treat a cold yourself

You can usually treat a cold at home without seeing a GP.

There are things you can do to help you get better more quickly.

If you have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to do your normal activities, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you feel better.

A pharmacist can help with cold medicines

You can buy cough and cold medicines from pharmacies or supermarkets.

A pharmacist can advise you on the best medicine, such as:

You can buy nasal sprays without a prescription, but they should not be used for more than a week as this can make your symptoms worse.

Do not use other cough and cold medicines if you're also taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets as you may take more medicine than you should.

Some cough and cold medicines are also not suitable for babies, children and pregnant women.

There's little evidence that supplements such as vitamin C, echinacea or garlic prevent colds or help you get better more quickly.

How to avoid spreading a cold

Colds are caused by viruses and easily spread to other people.

You're infectious until all your symptoms have gone. This usually takes 1 to 2 weeks. It can be longer in babies and young children.

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 with warm water and soap
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible

How to prevent catching a cold

A person with a cold can start spreading it from a few days before their symptoms begin until the symptoms have finished.

The best ways to avoid catching a cold are:

  • washing your hands with warm water and soap
  • not sharing towels or household items (like cups or children's toys) with someone who has a cold
  • not touching your eyes or nose in case you've come into contact with the virus
  • staying fit and healthy

The flu vaccine does not prevent colds.