"I've had a bad cold for three days. My body aches, my nose is stuffy, my throat is sore and I'm coughing a lot at night. Do I need to come into Student Health Services?"
It sounds like you've got a "cold." A cold is an upper respiratory infection caused by a virus that inflames the membranes in the lining of the nose and throat. Most young adults suffer from two to four colds a year.
There is no cure for the common cold. Because it is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help. Treatment is based on relieving symptoms and supporting your body while your immune system fights the infection. Here are some tips for caring for yourself when you have a cold:
- Drink plenty of fluids (not including alcohol).
- Humidify the air by using a cool mist vaporizer, taking a steamy shower, hanging wet towels in the room, breathing steam inhalations (face bowl), or placing a warm, moist towel over your face.
- Use salt water nose drops (one-half teaspoon of salt in an eight-ounce glass of water or pre-mixed spray from a drug store) to dislodge crusty nasal secretions which block openings into the sinuses and ears.
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen (available over-the-counter) can relieve muscle aches, pain and fever. Follow the recommended dosage on the package.
- Do not smoke, and avoid second -hand smoke.
- Oral decongestants may relieve nasal stuffiness. However, decongestants make some people jittery, can interrupt sleep and may cause a dry mouth.
- Antihistamines will help alleviate a runny nose and excess respiratory secretions but may cause drowsiness. For daytime, consider a non-sedating antihistamine such as loratadine or cetirizine (both available over-the-counter.)
- Cough syrups containing dextromethorphan may be used to suppress cough, especially if sleep is disrupted.
- Gargle with warm salt water (one-half teaspoon in an eight-ounce glass of warm water) every few hours to soothe throat pain.
A visit to SHS is probably not necessary at this point, but you are welcome to make an appointment with one of our providers if you would like us to examine you just to be sure. The following is a list of danger signs that would indicate a need to be seen by a health professional as soon as possible.
Danger Signs for a Cold:
- A temperature over 102°F that persists over three days
- Severe headaches
- Facial swelling and/or pain
- Very large neck glands
- Red or painful joints
- Skin rash
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty swallowing your own saliva
- Blurred vision
- Symptoms that persist over three weeks or get worse after five to seven days
- Severe fatigue