Treatment of the Common Cold

Am Fam Physician. 2019 Sep 1;100(5):281-289.


Acute upper respiratory tract infections are extremely common in adults and children, but only a few safe and effective treatments are available. Patients typically present with nasal congestion, rhinorrhea, sore throat, cough, general malaise, and/or low-grade fever. Informing patients about the self-limited nature of the common cold can help manage expectations, limit antibiotic use, and avoid over-the-counter purchases that may not help. Treatments with proven effectiveness for cold symptoms in adults include over-the-counter analgesics, zinc, nasal decongestants with or without antihistamines, and ipratropium for cough. Lower-quality evidence suggests that Lactobacillus casei may be beneficial in older adults. The only established safe and effective treatments for children are acetylcysteine, honey (for children one year and older), nasal saline irrigation, intranasal ipratropium, and topical application of ointment containing camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oils. Over-the-counter cold medications should not be used in children younger than four years. Counseling patients about the importance of good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent transmission of cold viruses.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ascorbic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Common Cold / therapy*
  • Echinacea
  • Fluid Therapy / methods
  • Humans
  • Nasal Decongestants / therapeutic use
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Patient Education as Topic*


  • Nasal Decongestants
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Ascorbic Acid