Charting the course of the common cold
Trying not to catch a cold or flu in the first place is the best way of avoiding the symptoms. Strengthening your body's natural defences, avoiding stress, getting enough sleep and eating healthily can all help you avoid catching a cold or flu.
Your diet can help
Consider a flu jab
Catching a cold or flu
Cold and flu viruses get into your body through your nose, throat and sometimes through your eyes. They can't move by themselves so they can only reach the cells in your nose, throat or eyes if you breathe them in through the air or put them there with your hands.
Catching colds and flu viruses through the air
Catching colds and flu viruses from your hands
Suffering the symptoms
Days 2 to 3
You've now caught a cold or flu, and although there is no cure, you can treat the symptoms and make yourself feel more comfortable while you wait for your body to fight off the virus. Your pharmacist has remedies that can help, including pastilles or lozenges to soothe sore throats, decongestants to unblock your nose or sinuses, cough suppressants to stop a tickly cough and cough expectorants to loosen a chesty cough.
The virus continues its attack while you wait for your body's natural defences to fight it. The mucus in your nose becomes thicker with dead cells, and this can lead to blocked and painful sinuses. Your throat continues to be irritated and becomes sore and painful.
Your body's natural defences, the white blood cells, arrive at your nose and throat and start fighting the virus. Your cold or flu has lasted several days now, and you are using more energy to fight the infection so you feel tired and need extra sleep. It is important that you get plenty of rest and keep drinking lots of fluids.
Days 10 to 14
As your body's natural defences overcome the virus, your symptoms start to get better. You may still have a cough or need to blow your nose for some time afterwards, as your body is still making mucus to clear out the dead cells. Keep resting and drinking plenty of fluids, and carry on taking remedies to stop your symptoms coming back.
If your symptoms don't improve, you should speak to your pharmacist, call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or see your doctor.
Wash your hands regularly, particularly during the peak cold and flu season (October to February).
Approximately one million of your nose and throat cells may have been invaded by the virus within as little as 12 hours.
Sneezes travel up to 30 feet - the length of a bus or train carriage.