Home care for cold, flu and COVID-19

The common cold, flu and COVID-19 are all caused by viruses. Symptoms may include:  

  • Fever (temperature greater than 100.4°F) 

  • Runny nose 

  • Sore throat 

  • Headache 

  • General aches 

  • Muscle pains 

  • Fatigue 

  • Weakness or exhaustion 

  • Chest discomfort 

  • Cough 

  • Sinus pressure 

Cold symptoms can last up to 2 weeks and a viral cough can last up to 18 days.

Pain in the sinus region is common at the start of a cold but does not mean you have a sinus infection. It usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to develop a sinus infection that might require antibiotics. A sinus infection can occur due to prolonged inflammation and nasal blockage that allows bacteria to breed in the sinuses.

Colds commonly produce green and yellow mucus, but color is not a sign of a bacterial infection. Antibiotics are not effective for colds and flus and will not help with symptoms or recovery. Antibiotics are only prescribed when necessary to treat a bacterial infection.

Taking antibiotics unnecessarily increases possible side effects and can lead to bacterial resistance. Doctors do not have remedies to make colds go away faster. Your body’s immune system is the only cure. However, there are medications that can help you manage symptoms. 

Over-the-counter options

When to schedule an appointment

  • The presence of persistent chills and high fevers beyond the first 3 days

  • Feeling increasingly out of breath

  • Pain in face or teeth after 2 weeks of cold symptoms warrants an appointment to rule out pneumonia or other serious infections

  • It is always best to be evaluated if you have concerns that your illness is more serious

If you or a loved one is experiencing flu-like symptoms and falls into any of the following categories, call your doctor immediately.

  • Children ages six months to four years

  • Pregnant women

  • Blood or metabolic disorders (including diabetes)

  • Heart, liver, kidney or lung conditions

  • Suppressed immune systems

What should I do if I am being evaluated for COVID-19?

If you're being evaluated for the virus and don't need to be hospitalized, you should take the following steps: 

  • Stay home except to get necessary medical care

  • If you must go out, avoid any kind of public transportation, ridesharing or taxis

  • Separate yourself from any other people in your home; if possible, use a separate bathroom

  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and then wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

  • Throw used tissues into a lined trash can immediately

  • Avoid sharing household items such as dishes, utensils, cups, towels and bedding

  • Stay hydrated with water; drinks designed to supply the body with carbohydrates, fluids and sodium; and clear soup broths

  • Take acetaminophen as needed for body aches and pains as directed by the manufacturer

  • Wear a face covering or face mask when you are within six feet of other people

  • Clean all high-touch surfaces daily, such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, phones, tablets, keyboards and bedside tables

  • Monitor symptoms and seek prompt medical attention if the illness is worsening or your symptoms become more severe (e.g., difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, bluish lips or face)

If you have an upcoming medical appointment, call ahead and let your doctor know if you have been directed by a health care professional to self-quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 or to isolate because you have or are suspected of having COVID-19. Please wear a face covering and advise the staff. You can stop home isolation when you meet all the following: 

  • You have had no fever for at least 72 hours (3 full days of no fever without the use of fever-reducing medicine)

  • Other symptoms have improved, such as cough or shortness of breath

  • At least 10 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared

Read our flu and COVID-19 stories