Common Cold

While you are reading this, about 30 million people in the United States have the common cold.  Colds are caused by more than 200 different cold viruses.  They are very contagious.  The average person gets 3 to 4 colds a year.  A cold usually lasts 3 to 7 days.  In older persons, though, a cold can last longer.  The cough that comes with a cold can last a few weeks after the cold symptoms go away.


  • Wash your hands often.  Keep them away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Try not to touch people or their things when they have a cold.
  • Get regular exercise.  Eat and sleep well.
  • Use a tissue when you sneeze, cough, or blow your nose.
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer in your bedroom in the winter.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Runny, stuffy nose and sneezing
  • Sore Throat
  • Dry cough
  • Low fever, if any

Causes & Care 

You can get a cold virus from mucus on a person’s hands when they have a cold, such as through a handshake.  You can also pick up the viruses on towels, telephones, money, etc.  Cold viruses travel through coughs and sneezes, too. 

Self-care usually treats a cold.  Antibiotics do not treat cold viruses.  Persons with some health conditions, such as asthma, should consult their doctors for advice to manage symptoms. 

Self Care

  • Drink lots of liquids.
  • For nasal congestion, use salt water drops, such as Ocean brand or a saline nasal spray.
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer to add moisture to the air.
  • Have chicken soup to clear mucus.

For Sore Throat Care:

  • Gargle every few hours with warm salt water (1/4 teaspoon of salt dissolved in 1 cup of warm water).
  • Have warm drinks like tea or soup.
  • Suck on a piece of hard candy or medicated lozenge.

Contact doctor for:

  • Quick breathing, trouble breathing, or wheezing.
  • A temperature of 101ºF or higher in a person age 3 to 65.
  • A bad smell from the throat, nose, or ears, or an earache.
  • A headache that doesn’t go away.
  • A bright red sore throat or sore throat with white spots.
  • Cough with mucus that is yellow, green, or gray.
  • Pain or swelling over the sinuses that worsens with bending over or moving the head, especially with a fever of 101ºF or higher.
  • Symptoms that get worse after 4 to 5 days or don’t get better after 7 days.
  • Symptoms other than a slight cough that last for more than 14 days. 


Flu or “influenza” is a virus that affects the nose, throat, breathing tube, and lungs.  “Stomach flu” is stomach upset and diarrhea caused by a virus in the stomach and intestines.  It is not the flu. 


  • Flu vaccine  
  • Stay away from persons with the flu.
  • Wash your hands often and keep them away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Eat well.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Exercise regularly.

Cases, Risk Factors & Care

Certain viruses cause the flu.  A flu virus is picked up by hand-to-hand contact of the virus or by breathing in air droplets that contain the virus. 

Conditions that Increase Flu Complications

  • A chronic lung disease, such as emphysema or asthma
  • Heart disease
  • Anemia
  • Diabetes
  • A weakened immune system from illness, chemotherapy, taking corticosteroids, etc.

Most often, self care treats the flu.  People with chronic illnesses should consult their doctor for advice on how to manage symptoms.


  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Self-isolate
  • Gargle every few hours with warm salt water
  • Suck on lozenges or hard candy
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever
  • DON'T suppress a cough that produces mucus
  • Wash hands often

NOTE:  Do NOT take aspirin - it has been linked to Reye's Syndrome in children and teenagers. 

Contact doctor for:

  • Onset of flu symptoms if you are at risk for complications from the flu
  • Sinus pain, ear pain or drainage from the ear
  • Fever above 103F
  • Yellow or green sputum or a nasal discharge for more than 5 days
  • Flu symptoms that get worse or last longer than a week and self-care brings no relief

Get Immediate Care For:

  • Purple lips, severe or increased shortness of breath, or severe wheezing
  • Stiff neck, seizure, lethargy, severe persistent headache
  • Confusion, little or no urine, sunken eyes, dry skin that doesn't spring back when pinched

Is It A Cold or the Flu?

Signs & Symptoms  Cold  Flu
Fever, chills  Mild, if any  Usual, can be high
Headache  Rare  Usual
Aches and pains  mild, if any  Usual, often severe, affects the entire body
Fatigue, weakness  Mild, if any  Usual, often severe. You may want to stay in bed
Runny, stuffy nose  Common  Sometimes
Sneezing  Usual  Sometimes
Sore throat  Common  Sometimes
Cough  Mild, hacking  Common, can become severe

Students who have questions or concerns regarding their personal health may e-mail the Health and Wellness Center.