In most cases you can treat the symptoms of a mild cold or flu yourself. Most people will get better by themselves within 7-10 days without any treatment.
Some things you can do to relieve cold or flu symptoms include:
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of water and other non-alcoholic fluids to prevent dehydration
- keeping warm
- eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
- avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke if possible
- inhaling steam from a hot bath or shower in a closed room to help relieve a blocked nose - remember to always directly supervise children near hot water
If you have a sore throat try:
- gargling with warm salty water
- sucking on an ice cube, ice block or a throat lozenge
- drinking hot water with honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice
There are also a number of medicines available to ease cold and flu symptoms.
Antibiotics do not treat a cold. This is because they only treat illnesses caused by bacteria, while colds and flu are caused by viruses. However, you can buy medicines to help with pain and fever from the pharmacy.
Colds and flu can make other conditions worse, like asthma or diabetes. See your doctor if you have cold or flu-like symptoms and 1 or more of the following:
- symptoms lasting longer than 10 days
- can’t or won’t drink fluids
- vomits frequently
- complains of intense headache
- is pale and sleepy
- chest pain
- breathing difficulties
- a rash with fever
- you are worried
See your doctor if your child has cold and flu symptoms and:
- has a chronic medical condition
- warning signs of severe illness including poor feeding, dehydration and difficulty breathing
See fever in children and spotting signs of serious illness in babies and children for more information.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your cold or flu, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: May 2018