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Cold / Runny Nose

Colds are caused by viruses.  There are about 200 different viruses that cause colds. Children can get 8 – 10 colds per year.  Adults get fewer colds because they have built up immunity against some of the viruses.  Antibiotics do not work against cold viruses.


  • Wash your hands to prevent spread of the viruses that cause colds.
  • Teach your children to wash their hands.
  • Wash objects and toys that are shared with others.


  • Runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, cough and, at the beginning, headache, fever and watery eyes.
  • Fluid from the nose is clear at first but turns thick yellow or green within 2 – 3 days.  This does not mean it is a bacterial infection.
  • Colds sometimes come with a cough, which can be worse at night.
  • A cold usually lasts for 4 – 7 days. It might take as long as three weeks to fully recover.


  • Drink plenty of fluids such as water or juice. Warm clear fluids such as soup will help the nose to drain.  Offer these to your child if your child has a cold.
  • Get plenty of rest or allow your child to rest.
  • Use salt-water (saline) nose drops to treat stuffiness and cough, especially for infants and toddlers.  Use commercial salt-water drops or spray or make your own.
  • A decongestant or cough syrup might help symptoms but will not shorten the length of the cold.  NOTE:  Do not give these products to infants or children under the age of six years without first talking with your doctor.  NOTE:  Decongestants and cough syrup might also contain fever reducing medication.  Read labels carefully and check with your pharmacist or doctor to avoid overdosing.
  • If you have a cold or are caring for someone with a cold, wash your hands often to prevent infecting others.
  • For further information on Fever, please see More Fever Links.

Salt Water Drops

  • Mix together:
    ½ cup (125 ml) warm water*
    ¼ tsp non-iodized salt
  • You may add:
    ¼ tsp baking soda
  • Prepare fresh every day.
  • Position child so that head is slightly back.
  • Use a medicine dropper to put 1 – 2 drops in each nostril.
  • Repeat 4 to 5 times per day.

*Use water that has been filtered, distilled or boiled for one minute and allowed to cool.

When to seek medical attention:

Children:  See your doctor if your child’s. . .

  • Fever returns or symptoms worsen 5-10 days after first becoming sick.
  • Yellow or green nasal discharge lasts longer than 10 days.

Adults:  Adults should consult their doctor, nurse practitioner or provincial health help line if symptoms worsen or are unusually severe.