Common cold (flu)

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Common cold (flu)


​A cold is a very common disease caused by different viruses. A common cold is usually diagnosed by its symptoms and only very seldom requires any other treatment but self-care.

It is quite usual for adults to have several common colds in a year. The common cold is usually caused by hundreds of different kinds of viruses. With age, common colds become less frequent as contacts with other people decrease and also because of the defensive reactions of the immune system.​​


​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. Adults may feel feverish (muscles ache) and generally unwell. General condition deteriorates a little, but normally a person with a common cold can continue their daily activities. A person may feel tired and unwell for quite some days. A painfully sore throat may be an indication of strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis) and laborious breathing of pneumonia.

It may be difficult to know whether the respiratory tract symptoms are caused by influenza, coronavirus or common cold. Usually persons with influenza have a higher temperature, stronger aches and feel more listless. During the influenza and coronavirus epidemic, the likelihood of contracting an infection caused by these viruses is greater than normally.


​It is essential to rest and avoid physical exertion.  However, you can stay up and do light chores. If you have a temperature, maintain fluid balance and drink more fluids than usual. Common colds are highly contagious and therefore you have to wash your hands frequently.

Common cold symptoms can be relieved by over-the-counter medicines from a pharmacy. Often anti-inflammatory medicines (ibuprofen) help to ease the general feeling of discomfort and antipyretic medicines (paracetamol) lower a temperature. Choose a medicine which is suitable for you and you are familiar with.  As the common cold is usually caused by viruses, antibiotics will not be helpful. Decongestants and cough medicines available without a prescription at pharmacies may help with symptoms. Pharmacy staff will help you select the right product, if necessary.​

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.
  • in addition to the cold, you experience extreme fatigue or you have difficulty breathing.
  • your symptoms reappear after a while.
  • a person who belongs to one of the risk groups contracts a respiratory tract infection during an influenza or coronavirus epidemic.
  • your cough, which started with the cold, disrupts your life and persists longer than 3 weeks.
  • your cold symptoms haven’t improved after 10 days.

To assess symptoms of respiratory tract infection, you can do symptom check on Omaolo webpage.  The questionnaire will help you to decide when and where you should seek medical advice.

Do you think you might have a coronavirus infection?

The disease caused by coronavirus is a sudden respiratory tract infection. The symptoms are similar to common cold symptoms. Based on the symptoms only, it is impossible to say whether you have coronavirus infection or an infection caused by some other flu virus. You can assess the likelihood of an infection on Coronabot or Omaolo coronavirus symptom checker 

For more information on coronavirus, see Coronavirus (Covid-19) section on Infektiotalo (Infection Hub) website.

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The producers of the instruction

​​​​Emergency care professionals have produced the instruction in collaboration with Terveyskirjasto.​


Updated  1.5.2021