Common cold: Causes, symptoms & tips to help shorten the duration

How common is the common cold?

A cold is an infection that affects the nose, throat and upper airways. Most common colds in adults are caused by a type of rhinovirus.

Colds are really common, with a higher incidence of co­­lds occurring during the cooler months. Children may get between five and ten colds a year, while ad­ults may get two to four colds each year.

What are the symptoms of a cold?

Colds are defined as an acute respiratory disease characterised by mild inflammation of the nasal mucosa. Symptoms can include:

  • Runny nose — nasal discharge is usually copious and thin for the first 2 days but can thicken as symptoms progress.
  • Blocked nose
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Sinus pressure
  • Fever, cough or sore throat may or may not be present.

How long does a cold last?

Cold symptoms usually last from 7–10 days, with most symptoms alleviated within seven days. Some people may have a lingering cough for up to 4-6 weeks after the rest of the symptoms have subsided.

How can I avoid getting a cold?

Wash your hands frequently

Washing your hands with soap and water can help prevent the spread of cold-causing pathogens. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available.

Avoid touching your face

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Pathogens can enter your body through the mucosal lining of your eyes, nose and mouth.

Be vigilant around people who are sick

It’s difficult to avoid people who are sick, but when caring for others or working alongside people who are sick, be vigilant with cleaning surfaces, do not share utensils and wash towels and bedding frequently.

How can I treat a cold?

If a cold strikes, you may want to relieve your symptoms, such as nasal congestion, soothe your sore throat and alleviate sneezing. Treatment options may include:


Although it’s tempting to continue with your daily tasks, try to get plenty of rest.

Using a gargle

If a sore throat is present, consider gargling with warm salty water several times a day or try a specially-formulated sore throat gargle. Betadine Sore Throat Gargle and Betadine Ready to Use Sore Throat Gargle both contain povidone-iodine, an antiseptic that can kill the bacteria that may cause a sore throat[8].

Always read the label and follow the directions for use.

Using a lozenge

Sucking on a throat lozenge such as Betadine Sore Throat Lozenges can be soothing. Sucking stimulates the production of saliva to moisten a dry throat. Betadine Sore Throat Lozenges contain two antibacterial agents that help kill bacteria which can cause a sore throat and mouth infections.

Always read the label and follow the directions for use

Nutrients that may reduce infection duration

Vitamin C, when taken as regular daily supplementation may reduce the duration and severity of colds when they occur. Zinc has been shown to shorten the duration of cold symptoms in adults. Talk to your healthcare professional before trying any herbs or supplements.

Pain Relief

Finally, if your cold is causing pain, over-the-counter pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be suitable. Speak to your healthcare professional to see if these products are right for you.

Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Incorrect use could be harmful.

What should I do if my child has a cold?

Most colds are self-limiting and will get better over time. You can treat cold symptoms at home with certain over-the-counter medicines, but some of these should not be used in young children. Always talk to your healthcare practitioner or pharmacist before giving your child over-the-counter cold medicine. We’ve also put together a guide to sore throats in children which may provide some helpful advice for parents.

What treatments are helpful for children?


Honey has been shown to help relieve cough symptoms in children more effectively than the antihistamine diphenhydramine. Honey is not be used in children younger than one year.

Pain medicines

Over-the-counter pain medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may help with pain and discomfort. Speak to your healthcare practitioner before giving your child any over-the-counter medications. Refer to the package insert for dosing instructions. Incorrect use could be harmful.

What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?

Many symptoms of the flu are similar to those of the common cold. But the flu usually affects the entire body rather than just the airways. It usually starts suddenly with very severe symptoms. Symptoms generally improve within one week, but coughing and exhaustion may last longer.

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever between 38°C and 40°C, or higher
  • Muscle and joint pain throughout the body
  • Headache
  • Severe fatigue and a general feeling of being very unwell
  • Dry cough
  • Stuffy and/or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Babies or toddlers may also have stomach and bowel trouble like nausea or vomiting.

When should I see a doctor?

A common cold is different from other infections such as influenza, sinusitis, bronchitis, or strep throat. While many of these other upper respiratory infections start with symptoms similar to a cold, you may need medical assistance to help with your recovery. See a healthcare practitioner if you have these symptoms:

  • Severe ear pain, especially on one side.
  • Severe sore throat without other cold symptoms.
  • No improvement or symptoms that get worse after 7 to 10 days.
  • Symptoms that start to get better but then get worse again quickly.
  • Fever that does not go down with medication.
  • Frequent vomiting or diarrhoea.
  • Not being able to eat or drink for 24 hours or more.
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or a cough that is getting worse and will not go away

The common cold is something that affects most households every winter and while symptoms usually clear on their own within a week, there are things you can do at home to help provide comfort and reduce pain. Saline nasal sprays can help reduce congestion and honey and lemon drinks may soothe a tickly cough. In the incidence of sore throat, Betadine Sore Throat Gargle and Betadine Sore Throat Lozenges may help bring relief.

Speak to your healthcare practitioner about which Betadine product is right for you.

Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Betadine is a registered trademark of Mundipharma AG, used under license.

MAT-AU-2203387. Dec 2022.

Learn about which Betadine product may be appropriate for you.

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