Common Cold Self-Care Tips

If you recently developed cold symptoms like cough, nasal congestion/stuffy nose, runny nose, or a mild sore throat here are some helpful treatments that can be done at home prior to coming in for a visit.

Most common cold (a.k.a. “upper respiratory infection” or URI) symptoms do not need to be treated with antibiotics. If you think that you have a URI, here is a list of some common symptoms and possible remedies you can do at home:

Symptom Treatment
  • Acetaminophen (eg. Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (eg. Motrin or Advil)
  • Increase clear liquid intake
Body Aches
  • Acetaminophen (eg. Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (eg. Motrin or Advil)
Sore Throat
  • Acetaminophen (eg. Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (eg. Motrin or Advil)
  • Warm salt water gargles
  • Throat lozenges
  • Chloraseptic throat spray/drops
Nasal Congestion
  • Decongestant- Pseudoephedrine or Phenylephrine HCl. These medications can be found in a combination medication or alone in medications such as Sudafed. Remember, these medications may increase your heart rate or cause insomnia. DO NOT USE IF YOU HAVE HYPERTENSION/ HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE.
  • Saline nasal rinse/spray or Neti Pot
  • Over the counter nasal sprays like Afrin.This can be used for relief for a short duration. It should not be used for more than 3 days.  DO NOT USE IF YOU HAVE HYPERTENSION/ HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE.
  • Humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
Runny Nose
  • Antihistamines- Consider a non-drowsy medication like Claritin, Zyrtec, or Allegra.
  • Overnight, a more sedating medication such as Benadryl or Chlorpheniramine may be helpful, but some students find that they are still fatigued the next day! These medications can sometimes be found in multi-symptom medication.
  • For a "wet"/productive cough: Expectorant- guaifenesin (Robitussin, Mucinex)
  • For a dry cough: Antitussive/cough suppressant : Dextromethorphan aka DM (Delsym) DO NOT USE IF ON ANY PSYCHIATRIC MEDICATIONS.


Many over the counter cold and flu medications contain a combination of different medicines. Read the ingredients to make sure that you are not “doubling up” on the amount of medication you should be taking. If you have any questions, ask the pharmacist.

Most of these symptoms are caused by a virus that will resolve in 5-7 days. If your symptoms are not improving after 10 days or are worsening after 5 days, then you should make an appointment at the Student Health Center.

If you are experiencing a fever ≥ 101° F (38.3° C) or ≥100.4 lasting 2 or more days, severe headache, very large neck glands, severe sore throat, white spots visible on tonsils at back of throat, skin rash, chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty swallowing own saliva please call 202 994 5300 option #1 to talk with a staff clinician during normal business hours. 

See urgent care for more information.