A cold is caused by a virus that affects the nose, throat and upper airways.
There are more than 200 different viruses that can cause a cold. The flu (influenza) is caused by more severe viruses. Adults usually have three to four colds each year. Children usually have more colds than adults, especially if they are in regular contact with other children (childcare, school). While a cold can make you feel miserable, most cases will clear up in a week.
When someone with a cold or flu coughs or sneezes, they expel tiny droplets that can contain a cold or flu virus. These tiny droplets can spread the virus from person to person.
A virus can also be spread by close contact, such as shaking hands or kissing someone who has a cold.
Colds and flu are more common in winter as people spend more time indoors with each other, which increases the chances of infection.
A cold can cause a blocked or runny nose, red watery eyes, a sore throat, coughing, sneezing and feeling generally tired and unwell.
Uncommon symptoms include nausea and vomiting, headaches, swollen lymph nodes (glands), fever and a husky or hoarse-sounding voice.
With the flu, the symptoms come on more quickly and you may have a fever, tiredness, headaches, muscle aches/pains, cough, shivering and feeling hot and cold.
Flu is unlikely to cause serious illness in healthy people.
People most at risk of serious illness are those who suffer from other chronic illness, have lowered immunity (from medications or illnesses), the elderly and those with respiratory diseases.
Poor health and smoking cigarettes will make infections more likely and can make symptoms more severe.
A virus cannot be treated with antibiotics.
Your body’s immune system will be able to fight the virus and this can be helped in a number of ways.
In a medical emergency go to the nearest hospital emergency department or call an ambulance (dial 000).
For other medical problems see your local doctor or health care professional.
For health advice from a Registered Nurse you can call NURSE-ON-CALL 24 hours a day on 1300 60 60 24 for the cost of a local call from anywhere in Victoria.*
NURSE-ON-CALL provides access to interpreting services for callers not confident with English. Call 1300 60 60 24.
*Calls from mobile calls may be charged at a higher rate
Disclaimer: This health information is for general education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you.