When you develop a cold it is the result of a viral infection and symptoms affect the upper airways, i.e. the nose, sinuses, ears, mouth or throat.
Colds are easily spread, particularly during the first few days of illness. It is therefore a good idea to try to avoid spreading the virus by washing your hands regularly and not getting too close to anyone, for example.
You will start to feel ill a day or so after being infected with the cold. Usually you will feel most poorly the first few days, but will be well again after one to two weeks.
A cold usually gets better by itself, but sometimes you can develop complications such as inflammation of the ears or sinuses that may need treatment. Asthma can be made worse by a cold, and if you have chronic bronchitis a cold can easily lead to an infection of the airways or pneumonia.
When you have a cold, you tend to feel out of sorts and ill. Common symptoms include a blocked or runny nose, a sore throat, cough and headache. Sometimes, you may also have a slight temperature, but it rarely becomes a fever.
Antibiotics do not work on colds, but there are plenty of things you can do to help ease your symptoms. The best medicine is to rest and wait for the cold to pass. Sometimes, you may need over-the-counter nasal drops or medicine to reduce your temperature.
When should I get treatment?
Most people who get a cold do not need treatment as colds tend to clear up by themselves.
You should seek medical advice if you have a fever for more than four days. This may indicate an infection that requires treatment. You should also seek medical advice if your fever clears up for a few days and then returns. Or if symptoms affecting your ears, throat or airways and sinuses get worse.
Here you can read more about how to seek health care in Jönköping.
Avoid infecting others
It is difficult to stop a cold virus spreading, but if you have a cold you can try not to infect others. You should:
- avoid shaking or holding hands and preferably keep a short distance away from other people, particularly if you need to cough or sneeze
- always try to sneeze into your elbow, not your hands
- wash your hands regularly and thoroughly during the cold season; this is important both when you have a cold and when someone nearby does
- use paper tissues and throw them away in a plastic bag that can be sealed.
You have to consider that you may be infectious before noticing any symptoms. You are most infectious the day you become sick and for a few days afterwards. Infectiousness then diminishes rapidly.
Watch the slideshow to see the best practices for hand hygiene
Wash your hands
Antibiotics do not help
Antibiotics have no effect on a cold. The body itself fights the infection, but you can relieve your symptoms in various ways.
There is a lot you can do to ease your symptoms. If you have a heavy cold, it may be a good idea to stay at home and to rest up for the first 24 hours. If you have a fever, you should stay at home until it has gone.
You need rest, but that does not mean you need to stay in bed. Getting up and moving about usually helps. However, you should not take part in sports while you have an infection.
If you have a fever
A fever seldom needs treating with medicines that alleviate a temperature. You may sometimes have a fever with a cold that lasts several days, but this does not necessarily indicate something serious. It is a good idea to drink more fluids than usual as the body loses more fluid when you have a fever.
You can, however, take medicine to reduce your temperature if you feel unwell because of the fever, for example your body aches or you are sleeping badly. There are over-the-counter medicines for pain and fever (swedish) that contain paracetamol, for example Alvedon or Panodil, or ibuprofen, for example Ibumetin or Ipren.
If you have a blocked nose
If your nose is blocked, you can first try nasal drops or a nasal spray containing saline solution. You can buy saline drops and spray at a pharmacy. You can also prepare saline solution at home by dissolving one millilitre – a pinch – of salt in 100 ml water.
If this does not work, there are nasal drops and nasal sprays that reduce catarrh and nasal congestion. This medication is available to buy without a prescription. If everyone in the family has their own spray, the infection will not be spread this way. You can also buy nasal drops in single-dose packaging. Decongestant nasal drops or nasal spray should not be used for more than ten days in a row. If used for longer than recommended, they can make your symptoms worse.
If you have a sore throat
A hot or cold drink often has a soothing effect if you have a sore throat. Ice cream and yoghurt can also feel good.
You can also try normal throat lozenges or throat lozenges with an anaesthetic effect. These can provide some relief if you have a sore throat, but they cannot reduce the swelling in the mucous membranes.
If you have a cough
In most cases cough medicine is unnecessary. If you have a productive (wet) cough it is important to cough up the mucus in order to clear your airways. An expectorant that can be bought at a pharmacy will not help very much. Medicines that relieve a cough should not be used with a productive cough because you will cough less and so not get rid of the mucus.
Medicines that relieve a cough can help a bit with a dry cough, but often having a drink works just as well. Hot and cold drinks can both help. There are over-the-counter medicines containing noscapine for dry coughs.
A simple head cold without fever or aching muscles should not prevent you from exercising as normal. However, if you have a heavy cold, especially one accompanied by a fever, you should avoid exercising or taking part in sports. In rare instances the viral infection can spread to the heart muscle and you can develop inflammation of the heart muscle, also known as myocarditis. Putting strain on the heart can cause a disturbance in the heart’s rhythm.
If you feel out of breath, tired and weak and have chest pains, you should call the medical advice line 1177 or contact your local healthcare centre (vårdcentral). This is especially important if you are young and do not have a history of heart problems.