What is an upper respiratory infection? 

    An upper respiratory infection is also called a common cold. It can affect your nose, throat, ears, and sinuses. 

    What causes a cold? 

    The common cold is caused by a virus. There are many different cold viruses, and each is contagious. This means the virus can be easily spread to another person when the sick person coughs or sneezes. The virus can also be spread if you touch something that a person with a cold has touched. You are more likely to get a cold in the winter. Your risk of getting a cold may be increased if you smoke cigarettes or have allergies, such as hay fever.

    What are the signs and symptoms of a cold? 

    Cold symptoms are usually worst for the first 3 to 5 days. You may have any of the following:

          Runny or stuffy nose

          Sneezing and coughing

          Sore throat or hoarseness

          Red, watery, and sore eyes


          Chills and fever

          Headache, body aches, or sore muscles

    How is a cold treated?

    There is no cure for the common cold. Colds are caused by viruses and do not get better with antibiotics. Most people get better in 7 to 14 days. You may continue to cough for 2 to 3 weeks. The following may help decrease your symptoms:

          Decongestants help reduce nasal congestion and help you breathe more easily. If you take decongestant pills, they may make you feel restless or cause problems with your sleep. Do not use decongestant sprays for more than a few days

          Cough suppressants help reduce coughing. Ask your doctor which type of cough medicine is best for you

          NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your doctor if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions

          Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day

    How can I manage my cold? 

          Rest as much as possible. Slowly start to do more each day

          Drink more liquids as directed. Liquids will help thin and loosen mucus so you can cough it up. Liquids will also help prevent dehydration. Liquids that help prevent dehydration include water, fruit juice, and broth. Do not drink liquids that contain caffeine. Caffeine can increase your risk for dehydration. Ask your doctor how much liquid to drink each day

          Soothe a sore throat. Gargle with warm salt water. This helps your sore throat feel better. Make salt water by dissolving ¼ teaspoon salt in 1 cup warm water. You may also suck on hard candy or throat lozenges. You may use a sore throat spray

          Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and help decrease your cough

          Use saline nasal drops as directed. These help relieve congestion

          Apply petroleum-based jelly around the outside of your nostrils. This can decrease irritation from blowing your nose

          Do not smokeNicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can make your symptoms worse. They can also cause infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Ask your doctor for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your doctor before you use these products

    What can I do to prevent the spread of the common cold? 

          Try to stay away from other people during the first 2 to 3 days of your cold when it is more easily spread

          Do not share food or drinks

          Do not share hand towels with household members

          Wash your hands often, especially after you blow your nose. Turn away from other people and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough

    When should I seek immediate care? 

          You have chest pain or trouble breathing.

    When should I contact my doctor? 

          You have a fever over 39ºC

          Your sore throat gets worse or you see white or yellow spots in your throat

          Your symptoms get worse after 3 to 5 days or your cold is not better in 14 days

          You have a rash anywhere on your skin

          You have large, tender lumps in your neck

          You have thick, green, or yellow drainage from your nose

          You cough up thick yellow, green, or bloody mucus

          You are vomiting for more than 24 hours and cannot keep fluids down

          You have a bad earache

          You have questions or concerns about your condition or care


    You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

    © 2017 Truven Health Analytics LLC All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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