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What To Do When You Get a Cold

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Updated May 08, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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What should you do when you get a cold?

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We all get colds. The common cold is the most common illness in the world and they affect millions of us every day. They can be caused by hundreds of different viruses and there is no "cure" other than time. Luckily they are also typically pretty mild, so while they might be irritating, most people don't need to spend days in bed while trying to recover.

However, there are some steps you should take when you get a cold to be sure that is actually what you have, to determine whether or not you need to see a doctor and to figure out what treatment options are best for you. These steps may not help you get over your cold any faster but they could help you stay on top of your symptoms, be sure you are doing what you can to relieve those symptoms and reduce your chances of developing a secondary infection.

Evaluate Your Symptoms

These common symptoms of the common cold can also be caused by a variety of other illnesses. Just because you have them doesn't necessarily mean you have a cold. We have step by step guides for all of the symptoms listed here that can help you determine the likely cause and what you need to watch for if you have them.

 

Decide if You Need to See a Doctor

Most people that get a cold do not need to see a doctor. The symptoms typically go away after about a week and require nothing more than rest and if you like, treatment with over the counter medications. But there are times when the symptoms of the common cold become more severe than they should be and do require medical intervention. Most of the time, it is because they are caused by something more serious than a cold, but you need to know what to watch for if you have any of these symptoms.

 

Choose Your Preferred Treatment Option

Some people head straight for the cold and flu aisle at the local pharmacy as soon as the first signs of a cold start while others would prefer to wait it out without taking any medication. There is nothing wrong with either option, you just need to figure out what is right for you.

If you choose to take over the counter cold medications, there are a lot of choices. Not all of them are right for every person or every cold. Your symptoms may differ from one cold to the next as well so just because you took one medication last time doesn't mean it is the right medication for this cold. We have several guides that can help you pick the right medication for your symptoms and your situation. However, if you have any chronic medical conditions or you take medications on a regular basis, be sure to talk to your health care provider before taking any over the counter medication or herbal remedy to be sure there will not be an unwanted drug interaction or side effect.

 

If you would prefer to try more natural remedies to relieve your symptoms, we have plenty of options for those as well.

 

Watch for Complications

A vast majority of people that get colds recover in about a week without any complications. (How Long Do Colds Last?) However, some people may develop secondary infections. They are more common in young children, older adults and people with chronic medical conditions but can happen to anyone. It's a good idea to know what the most common of these complications are and what the signs and symptoms could be.

 

Following these steps won't make your cold go away any faster but hopefully they will help you stay on top of your symptoms and know what to do when a cold hits. You know it will happen sooner or later.

Sources:

Common Cold Health and Research Topics 17 Aug 11. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. National Institutes of Health. Department of Health and Human Services. 3 Jul 13.

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