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Adult Self-Care for Colds

Colds are caused by viruses. They can’t be cured with antibiotics. However, you can relieve symptoms and support your body’s efforts to heal itself. No matter which symptoms you have, be sure to drink plenty of fluids (water or clear soup); stop smoking and drinking alcohol; and get plenty of rest. Man lying in bed reading temperature on thermometer. Label says "A fever is a sign your body is fighting infection." Woman in robe holding towel over head near steaming kettle. Label says "Your nose feels stuffy. Then, for no apparent reason, it starts to run. This is your body's way of flushing away invaders."

Understand a fever

  • Take your temperature several times a day. If your fever is 100.4°F (38.0°C) for more than a day, call your doctor.

  • Relax, lie down. Go to bed if you want. Just get off your feet and rest. Also, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

  • Take acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent (NSAID), such as ibuprofen.

Treat a troubled nose kindly

  • Breathe steam or heated humidified air to open blocked nasal passages. Stand in a hot shower or use a vaporizer. Be careful not to get burned by the steam.

  • Saline nasal sprays and decongestant tablets help open a stuffy nose. Antihistamines can also help, but they can cause side effects such as drowsiness and drying of the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Soothe a sore throat and cough

  • Gargle every 2 hours with 1/4 teaspoon of salt dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water. Suck on throat lozenges and cough drops to moisten your throat.

  • Cough medicines are available but it is unclear how effective they actually are.

  • Take acetaminophen or an NSAID, such as ibuprofen to ease throat pain

Ease digestive problems

  • Put fluid back into your body. Take frequent sips of clear liquids such as water or broth. Do not drink beverages with a lot of sugar in them, such as juices and sodas. These can make diarrhea worse. Older children and adults can drink sports drinks.

  • As your appetite returns, you can resume your normal diet. Ask your doctor whether there are any foods you should avoid.


When to seek medical care

When you first notice symptoms, ask your health care provider if antiviral medications are appropriate. Antibiotics should not be taken for colds or flu. Also, call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms or if you aren’t feeling better after 7 days:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

  • Worsening symptoms, especially after a period of improvement

  • Fever of 100.4°F  (38.0°C) or higher, or fever that doesn’t go down with medication

  • Sudden dizziness or confusion

  • Severe or continued vomiting

  • Signs of dehydration, including extreme thirst, dark urine, infrequent urination, dry mouth

  • Spotted, red, or very sore throat


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