Overview of Colds

Colds are minor infections of the mucous membranes of the nose, sinuses and throat caused by many different viruses. There are several hundred cold viruses, the more common one being rhinovirus.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms develop 1-3 days after a cold virus enters the body and will usually last a few days but may last up to 2 - 3 weeks.

  • Runny nose
  • Head congestion including the ears, nose, sinuses, throat & upper chest
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache and other body aches
  • Low grade fever
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished sense of taste and smell


  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth
  • Keep your distance from people with illnesses
  • Get regular exercise
  • Eat well
  • Get adequate rest
  • Reduce stress
  • No smoking. Smoking lowers resistance to all respiratory infections


Antibiotic medications do not cure viral infections and can be harmful if taken when not needed. Recommendations listed below will relieve your symptoms while your body’s own immune system is defeating the virus.

  • Drink extra liquids, hot liquids such as teas or soups may feel more comfortable for sore throats and help with nasal secretions and facilitate drainage
  • Rest, stay close to home
  • Saline nasal spray & steam therapy (sit in a steamy shower/bath) to relieve congestion
  • Use hard candies or cough drops to soothe dry, sore throat as well as help reduce coughing
  • Gargle with warm salt water (½ tsp salt in an average size glass water) to soothe a sore throat
  • Avoid smoking, caffeine and alcohol

Selectively choose over-the-counter medications if you need symptomatic relief for your most bothersome symptom(s). Use for short term and always read and follow the dosing directions on the package:

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for body aches, headache, sore throat and fever
  • Decongestant for congestion
  • Cough medication for cough
  • Medicated lozenges (e.g. menthol/eucalyptus) and throat sprays for sore throat
  • Anti-histamines may be helpful for runny nose & post-nasal drip in allergy prone individuals

How We Can Help

  • If you would like to be seen by our medical staff, please contact our Appointment Desk to schedule an appointment.
  • Also, our Advice Nurse service is available at no charge for all UC Davis students to discuss health concerns and the need for medical care.
  • Over the counter (OTC) products to control cold-related symptoms are available for purchase at our Pharmacy, which is located on the first floor of the UC Davis Student Health & Wellness Center.