Information to help you and your family this winter
What is a cold?
Colds are caused by viruses and there are over 200 different types of viruses that can cause the cold.
It is possible to get one cold after another because our immune system hasn’t yet encountered the different types of viruses. For this reason, children get colds more often than adults. Once you get over a cold, you become immune to that virus.
The common cold is not the same as the ‘flu’, which is also known as influenza. The flu is caused by a different virus (influenza A or B). Influenza is much more serious than a cold and can be life-threatening.
For more information on the flu, visit the Department’s influenza website.
Usually involves a combination of:
Runny or blocked nose
Symptoms normally only last a few days and most people fully recover without any ongoing problems after 7-10 days.
A dry cough can last for up to 3 weeks even after you feel better.
Coloured discharge from the nose is a normal part of your immune response and doesn’t mean that you need antibiotics.
Antibiotics kill bacteria not viruses
Antibiotics do not help treat colds and overuse may lead to resistance, making them less effective when they are needed.
They can also cause many unwanted side effects such as allergic reactions, diarrhoea and thrush.
Some medicines can help relieve the symptoms
Paracetamol is effective for fever and mild pain, and is a common ingredient in many ‘cold and flu’ medicines.
Make sure that you check the active ingredients on all product labels to ensure that you do not take a ‘double dose’ or give one to your child.
Nasal decongestants can help ease a blocked nose. They work in the nose by reducing blood flow and swelling, making it easier to breathe.
Sore throats can be relieved with sipping on a warm drink with lemon and honey, gargling salt water and sucking a lozenge.
Always ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice before using medicines, to make sure that it is safe for you or your child.
For more information about medicines and the common cold, visit the National Prescribing Service (NPS) website.
Download the fact sheet
Common cold (PDF 49KB)
Common cold (Word 325KB)