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Upper Respiratory Infection


An upper respiratory infection

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

Common signs and symptoms include the following:

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
  • Fatigue
  • Chills and fever
  • Headache, body aches, or sore muscles

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever over 102ºF (39°C).
  • 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 have 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.

Treatment for a cold:

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 not able to sleep. Do not use decongestant sprays for more than a few days.
  • Cough suppressants help reduce coughing. Ask your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider 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.

Manage your 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 healthcare provider 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 smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can make your symptoms worse. They can also cause infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

Prevent spreading your cold to others:

  • 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.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© 2018 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.