Everything You Need to Know About Cold

It should come as no surprise that the common cold is the most common cause of illness in children and adults1 – but what actually is it? Well, most colds are caused by a virus that affects the nose, throat and upper airways.2 In fact, there are over 200 types of viruses that can cause the common cold, which is why it’s difficult to be fully protected against it.1

Fortunately, the common cold is often treatable at home – but if you think you might have the flu, you should see a doctor.

We’ve put together this guide so you can learn about the different types of colds with some tips for cold prevention and how to get rid of a cold if you have symptoms.

What are Cold-Related Symptoms?

Common cold symptoms can vary from person-to-person, and include:3

Runny or blocked nose






Sore throat


Mild fatigue


Other symptoms can include swollen lymph nodes, red eyes and loss of appetite. 1 A fever is rarely experienced during the common cold (unlike with the flu), although children may be more likely to experience a fever than adults.3,4 Headache, aches and pain and nausea/vomiting are also rarely experienced in adults with the common cold.3

The severity of cold symptoms also varies from person-to-person – symptoms can be mild or  moderately severe.2 If you’re wondering how long a cold lasts, cold symptoms can persist from a few days to a week, but may be longer. However, most people fully recover without any ongoing problems.1

What Causes Colds?

Colds are caused by viruses5 which are easily spread from one person to another.6 The virus can travel in tiny droplets that are coughed or sneezed out of the body, which you can breathe in directly, or pick up from hard surfaces6,7 and infect yourself by touching your face or eyes.7

Because they spread easily and there are so many different types of viruses, it’s common for adults to get a few colds each year.2,4,8 

The common cold will usually go away on its own in about 7 to 10 days.4,9  In most cases, you can manage the symptoms of a cold yourself,9,10 but one thing to keep in mind is that antibiotics are not effective against the cold virus.10 Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections11 (and a cold is caused by a virus).5


Types of Colds

The types of cold can vary according to how severe your symptoms are – sometimes the common cold can lead to other conditions. Types of cold include:

  • Head cold – This is the typical common cold affecting the head, so head cold symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, cough and sore throat.3 This type of cold is commonly caused by a group of viruses called rhinovirus.2 
  • Chest cold – Also known as acute bronchitis. This can occur when your airways become inflamed following a cold infection. As the name suggests, chest colds involve symptoms in the chest, such as a cough, chest discomfort or pain, feeling short of breath and wheezing. Often the cough can last for 2–3 weeks.12
  • Trachea cold – Also known as bacterial tracheitis. This is a rare illness that mainly affects children following a viral infection, like the common cold.13 Those affected typically have cold symptoms, including a cough, for a week before developing high fever and noisy breathing due to narrow airways. 13 This can be life-threatening but, when found and treated early, most people make a full recovery.13

Cold Treatment and Prevention

In most cases, you can manage cold symptoms at home since people usually get better within 7 – 10 days.2 If you’re looking for cold prevention or how to relieve cold symptoms, try the following:

  • Get plenty of rest Your body is fighting the infection so give it the energy it needs by taking time to rest to aid your recovery.2
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables Eating foods with vitamin A (meat, dairy, eggs), vitamin C (citrus fruits, leafy greens) and vitamin D (mushroom, tuna, salmon) can help to boost your immune system.2,14–17
  • Drink hot water and honey This can help to relieve a sore throat.2
  • Take a steamy bath/shower Steam in a closed room can help to relieve a blocked nose.2
  • Try a saltwater gargle – Gargling with warm salty water can help to provide relief from a sore throat.2
  • Keep your distance – It may sound obvious, but your best bet is to try to keep your distance from infected people as much as you can.6 
  • Practice good hygiene – Viruses that cause the common cold can survive on unwashed hands for up to 2 hours6 and on surfaces for up to 24 hours.18 This is why you should wash your hands often with warm water and soap6,9 and try to keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth or nose, as the virus can enter your body this way.7
  • Clean surfaces regularly – Infected surfaces are a common way viruses can be transmitted between people.7 If someone in your household has a cold, regularly clean surfaces that everyone in the house touches, such as door handles to further prevent spread of the virus.2 
  • Avoid sharing items – If you live with someone who has a cold, avoid sharing towels or household items7 with them. Ask them to use disposable tissues and throw them in the bin as soon as possible.2 

Try medication – There are medication available that are designed to help you relieve the symptoms of a cold. For example, decongestants can help unblock a stuffy nose9, whilst pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce any pain or fever you may have.9,19 Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to help you decide what options can help relieve your symptoms.


When to See a Doctor for a Cold

See your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve after three weeks,9 or if you have cold symptoms and:2,9,20,21

Your symptoms suddenly get worse


Your temperature is very high, or you feel hot and shivery


You’re worried about your child’s symptoms


You’re finding it hard to breathe or have chest pains


You have an existing medical condition


You are immunocompromised (i.e. weakened immune system)


Lemsip Products

Lemsip has a range of over-the-counter cold and flu relief products, designed specifically for the symptoms you are experiencing: 


You can pick Lemsip products up from your local pharmacy or supermarket. They have different active ingredients and different formulations. If you are unsure which formulation is right for you, talk to your pharmacist.


This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.

[AU Mandatories]
Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Incorrect use could be harmful. RKT-M-01559.


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  3. Queensland Health. What’s the difference between a cold and the flu? Available at: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/newsroom (accessed July 2020).

  4. BMJ Best Practice. Common cold. Available at: https://bestpractice.bmj.com/topics/en-us/252 (accessed July 2020)

  5. Eccles R. Lancet Infect Dis 2005;5:718-25.

  6. Jacobs SE, et al. Clin Microbiol Rev 2013;26(1):135-62.

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  9. Allan GM & Arroll B. CMAJ 2014;186(3):190-99.

  10. Thielmann A, et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2016;2016: 6949202.

  11. Kohanski MA, et al. How antibiotics kill bacteria: from targets to networks. Nat Rev Microbiol 2010;8(6):423–435.

  12. HealthDirect. Bronchitis. Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bronchitis (accessed September 2022).

  13. Al-Mutairi B, Kirk V. Bacterial tracheitis in children: Approach to diagnosis and treatment. Paediatr Child Health. 2004;9(1):25-30.

  14. Singh B, et al. Nutrients. 2022;14(9):1909. 

  15. HealthDirect. Vitamin A and your health. Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-a-and-your-health (accessed September 2022).

  16. HealthDirect. Vitamin C and your health. Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-c-and-your-health (accessed September 2022).

  17. HealthDirect. Vitamin D and your health. Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/vitamin-d-and-your-health (accessed September 2022).

  18. Winther B, et al. J Med Virol. 2011;83(5):906-09.

  19. Eccles R. J Clin Pharm Ther 2006;31(4):309-19.

  20. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. 2008 Respiratory tract infections – antibiotic prescribing. Prescribing of antibiotics for self-limiting respiratory tract infections in adults and children in primary care. NICE Clinical Guideline 69.

  21. National Cancer Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Definitions. Last updated Nov 2022 [Cited Nov 2022]. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries