Self Care: Coughs & Colds

A cold on its own can be treated without seeing a GP. You should begin to feel better in about 1 to 2 weeks. A cough will usually clear up on its own within 3 to 4 weeks. Cough and colds can be treated with over the counter preparations from a pharmacy or other retail outlets.


How can I prevent and treat cough & colds?

  • To reduce the risk of spreading a cold; wash your hands often with warm water and soap, use tissues when you cough or sneeze and bin them once used as quickly as possible
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Gargle with salty water (do not swallow) and steam inhalation
  • Coughs will usually resolve within 3 weeks and colds within 2 weeksA pharmacist can recommend over the counter treatments for cough and colds.Ensure you have a flu vaccine if you are in an ‘at risk category’ as it prevents you from catching the flu but not colds
  • Antibiotics are not routinely needed for coughs and colds because they won’t relieve your symptoms or speed up recovery.
  • Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, and colds are
  • caused by viruses

When shall I seek medical help?

  • Cough or symptoms that last more than 3 weeks
  • Bad cough that rapidly gets worse – e.g. you have a hacking cough or cannot stop coughing
  • Increased temperature or feeling hot and shivering
  • Difficulty breathe or develop chest pain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Side of your neck feels swollen and painful (swollen glands)
  • A weakened immune system – e.g. because of chemotherapy or diabetes
  • Feeling unwell/worsening symptoms and that are concerning you
  • If you have a long-term medical condition e.g (insert example)
  • See a GP urgently if you're coughing up blood

Find out more about SW London Integrated Medicines Optimisation