Colds usually last one to two weeks. However, you could get a bacterial infection after a cold, such as an ear infection or sinus infection, which may mean you’re unwell for longer.
There are over 200 different viruses that can cause colds. These viruses spread through the air when someone with a cold sneezes or coughs.
You may also catch a cold by handling objects that were touched by someone with a cold.
You’re more likely to get a cold if you:
People tend to get fewer colds as they get older because they build up immunity to some of the viruses that can cause colds.
You usually start having cold symptoms one to three days after contact with a cold virus. Symptoms may include:
A cold is different from the flu (influenza). The flu usually develops more quickly. You’ll have fever and muscle aches within a few hours and will generally feel sicker than with a cold.
There are no medicines that cure a cold. However, you can treat your symptoms with medicines such as painkillers, nose drops or sprays, cough syrups and drops, throat lozenges and decongestants. (Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you take any of these if you’re already taking other medicines.)
Always read the medicine instructions and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are not sure.
Some medicines aren’t safe for children or for women during pregnancy. For example, Vicks VapoRub can be very dangerous if used on infants or young children, or if it is heated in any way.
Most colds last only a week or two and you probably won’t need to see a doctor. However, you should see your doctor if you get any of these symptoms with your cold:
Also see your doctor if you have:
If your lips, skin or nails look blue, or you’re feeling confused, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible.
Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.
You can help prevent the spread of colds: