Common Cold Self Care

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Cold or flu?

A cold and the flu are cause by different viruses. They cannot be cured with antibiotics. A cold usually begins with nasal stuffiness, itchy or sore throat while the flu hits you hard all at once. Flu treatments work best within 48 hours of the time symptoms start.

Prescription antiviral drugs may lessen the severity of symptoms, shorten the duration and make you less contagious.



Is it a cold or is it the flu?

Symptoms        Cold Flu
Fever Rare   High (100-102 F) can last 3-4 days
Headache Rare Intense
General Aches, Pains Slight Usual, often severe
Fatigue, weakness Mild Intense, can last up to 2-3 weeks
Extreme exhaustion Never Usual, starts early
Stuffy Nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore throat Common Common
Cough Mild to moderate Common, can become severe


What can you do when you have a cold?

These are general recommendations for self-care of some of the most common cold symptoms


Is one of the mechanisms our body uses to fight infection by creating an environment that is less favorable for bacteria and viruses to grow.

  • Keep hydrated by drinking fluid with electrolytes, e.g. Gatorade
  • Take a shower with lukewarm water to help your body cool itself
  • Place a cool washcloth over forehead and /or neck
  • Use cool clothing. Do not bundle up
  • Take ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) as directed by manufacturer. *
  • Look for early signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, sticky saliva, decreased urinary output, dark urine.
  • Rest


Helps your body to clear the lungs and airway. It could be a productive cough (with mucus/phlegm), or non- productive.

  • Keep hydrated by drinking fluids
  • Use a vaporizer, humidifier or breathe the steam of a hot shower to loosen congestion and thin the mucus.
  • Suck on cough drops, lozenges or hard candy to soothe your throat
  • For a productive cough, use an over the counter expectorant.
  • For a non-productive cough, use an over the counter cough suppressant, and/or decongestant for post nasal drip.

 Sore throat

  • Keep hydrated by drinking fluids
  • Hot beverages with honey can soothe the throat
  • Use salt water gargles several times a day (1/4 TSP of salt to ½ cup warm water)
  • Suck on cough drops, lozenges or hard candy to soothe your throat
  • If you smoke, stop smoking.
  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier to keep air moist.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen as directed by manufacturer for pain or discomfort. *

Nasal Congestion

  • Keep hydrated by drinking fluids
  • Use a vaporizer, humidifier or take a hot shower to loosen congestion and thin the mucus.
  • Use over the counter saline nasal spray to help clear your nose/sinuses.
  • Take an over the counter decongestant as directed by manufacturer


Seek Medical care if…

  • You have a fever for several days
  • You have a sore throat for more than 3 days or a worsening sore throat
  • You have earache
  • Symptoms persist or worsen
  • Fever’s accompanied by a rash, severe headache, stiff neck, marked irritability or confusion
  • Fever accompanied by back pain, abdominal pain or painful urination
  • You cough up blood, brown or green mucus
  • You cough has lasted more than 10 days
  • You experience shortness of breath or severe chest pain or you have difficulty swallowing
  • You have an enlarged neck glands (lymph nodes) that persist
  • Your sinus are tender or painful


Over the counter medication (OTC) tips

  • Re‌ad labels on the package
  • Most cold and flu medication have a combination of ingredients, if you are taking more than one you may be double dosing an active ingredient and/or not getting enough of another.
  • *Check active ingredient on OTC and DO NOT take it if you are allergic or have any sensitivity to any of the ingredients.


Antibiotics do not treat viral infections

If you have any question or concerns please call the Student Health Services LMU at 310-338-2881 during office hours,

  • Fall and Spring Semesters: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM.; Monday and Wednesday 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM
  • Summer Hours:  8:00 AM to 5:00 PM

 You can make an appointment by phone or on the Student Portal. Access the portal by going to, choose “System Logins” menu and select “MyHealth”.

 Campus EMTs are available after hours and on weekends during the spring and fall semester. To contact them call Public safety at 310-338-2893


A list of nearby urgent cares and emergency room can be found here:


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A Healthy Lion is a Happy Lion! Always practice good hand hygiene.

 References: “Common cold self-care” from, Julie Briggs, TelephoneTriage Protocols for Nurses, 4th ed pages 135 & 219