Common cold

​General information

It is quite usual for adults to have several common colds in a year. The common cold is caused by hundreds of different viruses, with rhinoviruses as the most common type of virus.

The first symptoms are usually a sore throat, sneezing and tingling and irritation of the nose. These are followed by a cough and nasal congestion. You may have muscle aches and feel generally unwell and feverish. You may feel tired and unwell for some time, often up to 10 days.


You can take anti-inflammatory painkillers and fever reducers to ease your symptoms and bring down your temperature, provided you are familiar with them and are not allergic to them. As the common cold is usually caused by viruses , antibiotics will not be helpful. Cough medicines and decongestants available without a prescription at pharmacies may help with symptoms. You can also try steam inhalation to treat a blocked nose and husky voice. The pharmacy staff will help you choose the right products to ease your symptoms.

It is essential to rest and avoid physical exertion. Common colds are highly contagious, which is why it is a good idea to wash your hands frequently. Drink plenty of fluids, and if you have a high temperature, you should drink more than usual.

When should you seek medical advice?

You should seek medical advice if

  • your temperature stays high, over 38.5°C for longer than 3–4 days and you clearly feel it is not caused by a cold.
  • your fever comes back or your symptoms suddenly reappear.
  • you experience extreme fatigue, pain in the chest or you have difficulty breathing.
  • a person who belongs to one of the risk groups contracts a respiratory tract infection during an influenza epidemic.
  • your cough continues for longer than 3 weeks or your symptoms haven’t improved after 10 days and you feel pressure in your sinuses.

This Self-care instruction has been produced in collaboration with Duodecim Terveyskirjasto

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Updated  5.6.2020