What Are Colds?

Colds are the most common infection of the nose, sinuses, or throat (upper respiratory infection). Colds are caused by viruses. They’re spread by coughs, sneezes, and close contact. You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they’re more common in late winter and early spring. There’s no cure for colds.

Download HEAL: Common Cold by Alberta Health Services 

What are the symptoms?

Lots of different viruses cause colds, but the symptoms are usually the same. They include:

  • Runny nose and sneezing.
  • Red eyes.
  • Sore throat and cough.
  • Headaches and body aches.

You will probably feel a cold come on over the course of a couple of days. As the cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker mucus.

A cold isn’t the same as influenza (flu). Flu symptoms are worse and come on faster. If you have the flu, you may feel very tired. You may also have a fever and shaking chills, lots of aches and pains, a headache, and a cough.

If you feel like you have a cold all the time, or if cold symptoms last more than 2 weeks, you may have allergies or sinusitis.

When should I call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You seem to be getting much sicker.
  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You have a new rash.

For more information visit

My Health Alberta

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Ask your pharmacist if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. No one younger than 18 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Be careful when taking over-the-counter cold or influenza
    (flu) medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Use saline (saltwater) nasal washes to help keep your nasal passages open and wash out mucus and allergens. You can buy saline nose sprays at a grocery store or drugstore. Follow the instructions on the package. Or you can make your own at home. Add 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of non-iodized salt and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of baking soda to 2 cups (500 mL) of distilled or boiled and cooled water. Fill a squeeze bottle or neti pot with the nasal wash. Then put the tip into your nostril, and lean over the sink. With your mouth open, gently squirt the liquid. Repeat on the other side.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to your bedroom. Follow the instructions for cleaning the machine.