Cold and coughs symptoms

The first symptom of a cold is usually a sore or irritated (tickly) throat. This is then followed by other symptoms, including:

  • A blocked nose
  • Nasal pain and irritation
  • Sneezing
  • A runny nose – the discharge is usually clear and runny at first before becoming thicker and darker over the course of the infection
  • Coughing
  • Hoarse voice
  • A general sense of feeling unwell

Less common symptoms of a cold can include:

  • A mild temperature of around 38-39oC
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • A feeling of pressure in your eyes or face


The symptoms of a cold are usually at their worst during the first two to three days of the infection. In adults and older children the cold usually lasts for about a week, however, the cough could last for up to three weeks.

Colds tend to last longer in younger children who are under five.  Their symptoms usually last for 10-14 days.


In most cases, you can treat the symptoms of a cold at home:
  • Drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost due to sweating and a runny nose
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Gargling with salt water to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat
  • Vapour rubs – these can help soothe the symptoms of a cold in babies and younger children
  • Painkillers – paracetamol, and ibuprofen can help to reduce a fever and will also act as a painkiller. These painkillers can often be included in over the counter cold medicines, so it is important to check with your pharmacist or GP before taking a cold remedy if you’re taking any other medicines. NB: Aspirin and preparations containing aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 16
  • Seek prompt medical advice for any child with a temperature above 39oC (above 38oC if aged less than 6 months)
  • Antibiotics are not prescribed for colds as they have no effect on viruses.

How can I prevent a cold spreading?

You can take steps to help prevent the spread of a cold.  For example:
  • Wash your hands regularly and properly, particularly after touching your nose or mouth and always before handling food
  • Always sneeze and cough into tissues – this will help to prevent the virus-containing droplets from your nose and mouth entering the air where they can infect others; throw away used tissues immediately.
  • Clean surfaces regularly to keep them free of germs
  • Use your own cup, plates, cutlery and kitchen utensils
  • Use disposable paper towels to dry your hands and face, rather than shared towels. As with tissues always dispose of the paper towels after you have finished using them