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Last modified: Tuesday, 18-Jul-2017 21:18:25 EDT

University Health Service (UHS)
Health Promotion Office

Common Cold – Self Care
(Cough, Fever, Nasal Congestion, Sore Throat)

Upper respiratory infections or colds are an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract caused by many different virus strains that cannot be cured by antibiotics. Most colds last for 4-5 days. While there is no cure for the common cold, over-the-counter medications may reduce your cold symptoms. Colds are spread from person to person through coughs, sneezes, and mucus on a person's hands. You can pick up the virus from books, towels, door handles, etc. that people with a cold have touched. Colds may last in diminishing severity for 2 to 4 weeks.

Is it a Cold or is it the Flu?

Different viruses cause the cold and the flu. Cold and flu symptoms are similar but have different intensity levels. A cold usually begins with minor sniffling or sneezing, while the flu hits you all at once. A cold rarely moves into the lungs, but the flu can cause pneumonia. Fatigue and muscle aches are more severe with the flu. It is important to determine if you have a cold or something more severe.

Self Care for Colds

Below are recommendations for self-care for four of the most common cold symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, and nasal congestion. Also included is advice to help you decide when to seek medical care. University of Rochester students in need of medical care should call the University Health Service (585 275-2662) to schedule an appointment.

Symptom #1: Fever

A fever helps fight infection by creating an environment that is less conducive to the growth of bacterial and viral organisms. Normal body temperature is thought to range from 970 - 1000 F.

There are many factors that can increase your temperature besides illness, such as hormones, hot weather, and exercise. If you have ruled out other factors other than illness that can cause a fever, it is then important to determine if you are dehydrated or if your fever is dangerously high. Since a fever is one of your body's natural healing mechanisms, you may not want to reduce it unless you are uncomfortable or it is too high.

Self-Care for a Fever

Seek Medical Care if…

Symptom #2: Cough

Coughing is your body's way of trying to clear the lungs and airways. There are two major types of coughs: (1) productive (brings up mucus or phlegm) and (2) non-productive (dry cough without any mucus)

Coughs may be caused by viral or bacterial infections, allergies, or by irritants, especially cigarettes. It is important to determine if your cough is caused by an infection, an allergy, or an irritant. A fever and thick, colored mucus may be signs of a bacterial infection, which should be treated immediately.

Self-Care for a Productive Cough

Self-Care for a Non-Productive Cough

Seek Medical Care if…

Symptom #3: Sore Throat

The two main causes for the common sore throat are:

Symptoms for bacterial infections include a sore throat that persists for three to four days, a fever of 1010 or higher, swollen glands in the neck, and white or yellow patches on the tonsils or the back of the throat.

Self-Care for a Minor Sore Throat

Seek Medical Care if…

Symptom #4: Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion has many causes: a cold, the flu, other infections, or an allergy to food, chemicals, or other substances like pollen or dust. If your nasal congestion is caused by an allergen, the best way to clear up congestion is to avoid the allergen. If allergy symptoms persist for a few weeks, you may want to seek medical attention. Otherwise, nasal congestionmay clear up on its own.

You can help alleviate the discomfort of nasal congestion. Selfcare for nasal congestion due to a cold is important not only because it helps relieve discomfort, but also because it helps prevent the spread of infection to other people.

Self-Care for Nasal Congestion

Seek Medical Care if…

Avoid Taking Aspirin
Children and young adults should avoid taking aspirin for cold symptoms. Aspirin, which contains salicylates, has been implicated in the development of Reye Syndrome, an uncommon, yet serious complication of viral illnesses, such as colds. Tylenol® is recommended.


Treating Viral Infections

If you are diagnosed as having an illness caused by a virus, you will not be given an antibiotic. Antibiotic treatment does not cure viral infections and, in fact, may be harmful if given when not needed.

Most viral infections last 7-10 days. The treatments below will help you feel better while your body's own defenses are combating the virus.

Seek Medical Care for Viral Infections if…

Over-The-Counter (Otc) Medications

With so many medications to choose from when you have a cold or the flu, choosing the best product can be tough. Most cold symptoms can be relieved with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Many medications you may need can be purchased from UHS, as well as several other locations both on and off campus. At UHS, you can pay by check or charge the cost to your tuition bill.

Most cold and flu preparations contain a combination of ingredients, so it is important to read the labels of each product. Sometimes, if you take more than one product, you may be getting a double dose of an active ingredient and/or not getting enough of another.

Tips for Taking OTC Medications