What You Need to Know to Avoid the Common Cold & Feel Your Best

by James Brown

Updated October 25, 2023


It’s that time of year again – time when more people catch the common cold and battle its bothersome, life-disrupting symptoms.

The American Lung Association reports that adults can expect to catch between 2 and 4 colds per year, mostly between the months of September and May, which is commonly referred to as “cold season.” Children, on the other hand, can expect to catch 6 to 8 colds during that same time period.

That means more people hacking and coughing and sneezing, which means more opportunities for you to get sick and join them in their suffering.

The First Signs of a Cold

Doctors say that colds today progress in a common pattern – starting with stuffiness, a sore throat, and a runny nose and then progressing to include coughing and more nasal congestion before the symptoms start easing at the end of a typical 7-10-day period.

Many doctors also say that it is frequently difficult to tell the common cold from COVID-19 without the patient undergoing a COVID test due to the two conditions having many similar symptoms.

So, what exactly is the common cold?

The common cold is a viral infection primarily caused by rhinoviruses, though other viruses such as coronaviruses and adenoviruses can also be responsible.

It is a highly contagious illness that affects the upper respiratory tract, including the nose and throat. Additional symptoms besides those previously mentioned include:

●Watery eyes
●Mild headache
●Low-grade fever (though not always present)

How Do You Catch a Cold?

Cold viruses are typically highly contagious and transmitted through droplets from an infected person's coughs or sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching one's face. These viruses are hardy and can survive on surfaces for several hours and remain viable on the skin and hands for a short period, increasing the likelihood of transmission.

Close contact with an infected person, such as shaking hands or hugging, can also transmit the virus. Another factor increasing the chances of catching a cold is the fact that infected individuals can start shedding the virus and become contagious even before they develop noticeable symptoms. In fact, this early period of viral shedding often contributes to the rapid spread of the cold.

As a result of colds being easily transmitted, it can be very difficult to avoid catching one. Some things you can do to reduce your chances include:

●Stay away from people who have colds, especially in the first few days when they are most likely to pass it on.

●After touching someone with a cold, touching something they touched, or blowing your nose, wash your hands. If a kid has a cold, wash their toys after they play with them.

●Keep your fingers away from your nose and eyes so you don't get sick from cold virus particles you might have picked up.

●Place a second hand-towel in the bathroom so that people who aren't sick can use it.

How to Feel Better if You Do Catch a Cold

There is no specific cure for the common cold, and antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like the cold.

As a result, treatment usually focuses on relieving symptoms and includes rest, staying hydrated, using over-the-counter cold medications (such as decongestants and pain relievers), and practicing good hygiene, like regular handwashing, to prevent spread.

A decongestant, an antihistamine, or a mixture of the two can be used to treat stuffy noses, coughs, and runny noses. Some people shouldn't take decongestants, like those with heart disease or high blood pressure.

One more thing to note: herbs, minerals, and other natural substances like echinacea, eucalyptus, garlic, honey, lemon, menthol, zinc, and vitamin C get a lot of attention as potential cold cures. But as of today, none of these claims are backed up by strong evidence from scientific studies. So, you should be cautious when using natural supplements for cold relief.

Additional Tips for Feeling Better if You Catch a Cold

If you have a cold, it is best to drink a lot of water. This will help keep the walls of the nose and throat from drying out, so mucus stays moist and is easy to clear out of the nose.

You should also avoid drinking coffee, tea, or soft drinks that have caffeine in them. Also, don't drink anything with alcohol in it. Caffeine and booze both make you lose water, which is the opposite of what your body needs to heal.

If you smoke, try to quit or cut down as much as you can until you feel better. Stay away from smokers, because breathing in their smoke will hurt your throat even more and make you cough more.

Here are some more tips to help you feel better:

●Saline nasal sprays can help soothe nasal congestion and alleviate a stuffy nose. They are safe to use as often as needed.

Gargling with warm saltwater can provide relief for a sore throat. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle several times a day.

●Use a humidifier in your bedroom to add moisture to the air. This can help ease congestion and soothe a dry throat.

●Consume a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods provide essential nutrients that support your immune system.

●Cough drops or lozenges can help soothe a sore throat and reduce coughing.

●Keep yourself warm, as cold temperatures can make cold symptoms feel worse.

●Don't push yourself too hard. Rest is important to help your body recover.

If You Catch a Cold, Do the Following to Avoid Giving it to Other People

First off, when you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. Then, throw away the tissue and wash your hands.

Also, stay away from the most sensitive people, like those with asthma or another long-term lung disease, or at least try to keep your distance from them.

Here are more things you can do to avoid giving your cold to others:

Frequent Handwashing – Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. If soap and water are unavailable, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Avoid Close Contact – Stay home when you're feeling unwell to avoid exposing others to the virus. If you must be around others, maintain physical distance to reduce the risk of transmission.

Wear a Mask – Consider wearing a mask, especially if you need to be around others. Masks can help contain respiratory droplets and reduce the spread of the virus.

Limit Sharing – Avoid sharing personal items like utensils, drinking glasses, and towels. If you must share, wash items thoroughly with soap and water.

Disinfect Surfaces – Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home and workspace daily. This includes doorknobs, light switches, countertops, and shared electronics.

Notify Close Contacts – Inform people you've been in close contact with while you were contagious so they can take appropriate precautions.

Follow Health Guidelines – Follow the guidance of your healthcare provider or local health department regarding isolation and quarantine recommendations.

Stay Hydrated and Rest – Get plenty of rest to help your body recover, and stay well-hydrated to support your immune system.

Practice Good Hand Hygiene for Caregivers – If you're caring for someone who has a cold, be sure to wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of the virus.

When Should You Go to the Doctor if You Have a Cold?

Colds usually get better in a few days to a few weeks, no matter if you take medicine or not. But a cold virus can make it easier for other diseases, like sinus or ear infections and acute bronchitis, to get into the body.

A sinus illness that makes you cough for a long time is a common complication. If you have asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema, your symptoms may get worse for a long time after you get over a cold.

A post-infectious cough, which usually doesn't make phlegm, can last for weeks or months after a cold is gone and may keep a person up at night. This cough has been linked to symptoms like asthma, and asthma medicines can be used to treat it. If you have this kind of cough, you should see a doctor right away.

Here are some more instances when you should consider seeking medical attention:

●If you experience severe symptoms or your symptoms get significantly worse after a few days, it's important to consult a doctor. This could include a high fever (above 102°F or 38.9°C), severe headache, or persistent and worsening cough.

●If you have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or wheezing, seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms could indicate a more serious respiratory condition.

●If your cold symptoms persist for more than two weeks without improvement or seem to be getting worse instead of better, consult a healthcare professional. Prolonged symptoms may suggest a secondary infection or another underlying issue.

●If you have chronic health conditions such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), diabetes, or a weakened immune system, you may be at a higher risk of complications from respiratory infections. Contact your healthcare provider for guidance on managing your cold symptoms.

●If you develop severe ear pain, facial pain, or sinus pressure that is not relieved with over-the-counter treatments, a healthcare professional can help determine if you have a sinus infection or ear infection.

●If you are in a high-risk group, such as young children, older adults, or pregnant women, you should be cautious and consult a doctor if you or your child experiences cold symptoms. Complications can be more common in these groups.

●If you initially had mild cold symptoms that improved but then worsen after a few days, it may be a sign of a secondary infection, and medical evaluation is recommended.

●If you are concerned about complications, have a compromised immune system, or are unsure about the severity of your symptoms, consult a healthcare provider for guidance.


1.American Lung Association, Facts About the Common Cold (online). Accessed Sept. 20, 2023.
2.Everyday Health, Your Day-by-Day Guide to the Common Cold (online). Accessed Sept. 19, 2023.
3.Daily Mail, Doctors Admit They Can't Tell Covid Apart from Allergies or the Common Cold Anymore - Highlighting How Mild Virus Has Become (online). Accessed Sept. 19, 2023
4.John Hopkins Medicine, Common Cold (online). Accessed Sept. 20, 2023.
5.National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 5 Tips: Natural Products for the Flu and Cold: What Does the Science Say? (online). Accessed Sept. 19, 2023.
6.GoodRx, Does Gargling With Salt Water Really Help a Sore Throat? (online). Accessed Sept. 20, 2023
7.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, When and How to Wash Your Hands (online). Accessed Sept. 20, 2023.
Article by
James Brown
Hello,I'm James, an editor at BeWellFinder, where I'm dedicated to sharing my expertise to provide you with valuable insights.

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