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Adult Self-Care for Colds

Colds are caused by viruses. They can't be cured with antibiotics. But you can ease 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

  • Get plenty of rest

  • Stay away from secondhand smoke

Woman at home, sick in bed.

Understand a fever

  • Take your temperature several times a day. If your fever is  100.4° F ( 38°C ) for more than a day, call your healthcare provider.

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

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

Treating a stuffy nose

  • 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. These include 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's not clear how well they work.

  • Take acetaminophen or an NSAID, such as ibuprofen, to ease throat pain. Follow package directions on how much to use and how often to take the medicine.

Ease digestive problems

  • Put fluids back into your body. Take frequent sips of clear liquids such as water or broth. Stay away from drinks that have a lot of sugar in them. These include juices and sodas. These can make diarrhea worse. Older children and adults can drink sports drinks.

  • As your appetite returns, you can go back to your normal diet. Ask your healthcare provider if there are any foods you should not have.

When to call your healthcare provider

When you first notice symptoms, ask your provider if you should take antiviral medicines. Antibiotics should not be taken for colds or flu. Also call your provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • You don't feel better after 7 days

  • Belly pain or vomiting

  • Symptoms get worse, especially after a period of improvement

  • Fever of  100.4° F  ( 38°C) or higher, or fever that doesn't go down with medicine, or as advised by your healthcare provider

  • Dizziness or weakness

  • Slight shortness of breath or wheezing

  • Spotted, red, or very sore throat

  • Signs of dehydration:

    • Extreme thirst

    • Dark urine

    • Not urinating often

    • Dry mouth

When to call 911

Call 911 right away if any of these occur:

  • Chest pain

  • Coughing up blood

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat

  • Severe trouble breathing

  • Sudden confusion, fainting, or loss of consciousness

Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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