Common cold

BMJ Clin Evid. 2011 Mar 16;2011:1510.


Introduction: Each year, children suffer up to 5 colds and adults have two to three infections, leading to time off school or work, and considerable discomfort. Most symptoms resolve within 1 week, but coughs often persist for longer.

Methods and outcomes: We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical question: What are the effects of treatments for common cold? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to January 2010 (Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically, please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Results: We found 21 systematic reviews and RCTs that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.

Conclusions: In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: analgesics or anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants for short-term and for long-term relief, decongestants plus antihistamines, echinacea, steam inhalation, vitamin C, and zinc (intranasal gel or lozenges).

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Ascorbic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Common Cold* / drug therapy
  • Echinacea*
  • Humans
  • Nasal Decongestants / therapeutic use
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Nasal Decongestants
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Ascorbic Acid