How To Care For Cold, Cough and Post Nasal Drip Symptoms

Helpful tips about taking care of ones health this upcoming cold and flu season

Essentials > How To Care For Cold, Cough and Post Nasal Drip Symptoms
How To Care For Cold, Cough and Post Nasal Drip Symptoms
Article courtesy of Student Health Services.
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Student Health Services, Contributor

Getting sick with a cold or upper respiratory tract infection can occur at any time during the year, but most commonly during the winter and spring. These types of illness are often caused by viruses which can weaken the immune system causing individuals to miss work and school.  The CDC reports that most adults get sick with upper respiratory tract infections at least 2-3 times per year and children commonly acquire these illnesses at an alarmingly higher rate. Here is some helpful information about viral upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold and post nasal drip, that one may not be aware of. 

What is the common cold?

The common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). It’s usually harmless, although it may not feel that way. Many types of viruses can cause the common cold.

How does one get sick with the common cold?

The cold virus enters the body through the mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks. 

It is also spread with hand to hand contact with someone who is already infected or by sharing contaminated items such as utensils, towels, toys, or contact surfaces.

What factors increase chances of getting a cold?

  • having a weakened immune system or chronic illness such as diabetes or hypertension

  • time of year (fall/winter) can also factor in to ones susceptibility to colds, but colds can happen at any time

  • smoking cigarettes,vaping products, marijuana, tobacco use which has found to weaken the immune system

  • exposure to large crowds of people in areas such as schools, movie theaters or airplanes

What are things one should know about the common cold?

  • healthy adults can expect to have at least two or three colds annually

  • most people recover from a common cold in a week to 10 days

  • symptoms might last longer in people who smoke

  • discharge from the nose may become thicker and yellow or green colored as the cold runs its course

  • discolored mucus is not an indicator of of bacterial infection

  • there is no vaccine to protect against the common cold

  • antibiotics will not help to recover from a cold caused by a respiratory virus

How to prevent getting sick and ways to protect others from getting sick?

  • avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing and shaking hands

  • stay at home while sick

  • move away from others when coughing or sneezing

  • cough or sneeze into a tissue then throw it away immediately in the garbage or, cough and sneeze into the bend of the arm or upper shirt sleeve covering the nose and mouth completely

  • wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol based hand sanitizer after coughing, sneezing or blowing one's nose

  • disinfect with household cleaner frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as tablets, computer keyboards, phones and doorknobs.

  • don’t share makeup, drinking glasses, utensils, eat off the same plate, especially when sick

What are common cold symptoms?

  • runny or stuffy nose

  • sore throat

  • cough

  • nasal and or chest congestion

  • slight body aches and or mild headache

  • sneezing

  • low grade fever

  • generally feeling unwell

What are possible complications of the common cold?

  • acute ear infections also known as otitis media

  • triggering asthma attack

  • sinus infection

  • other secondary infections like  strep throat and pneumonia 

Note: These possible complications require immediate evaluation and treatment by a medical provider 

What is post nasal drip?

Post nasal drip occurs when excessive mucus  is produced by the mucous membrane lining within the sinus cavities and nasal passages. The excess mucus builds up in the throat or back of the nose causing a constant dripping of mucus down the back of the throat

What are common causes of post nasal drip?

  • colds and flu

  • sinusitis

  • seasonal allergies

  • changes in the weather with cold temperatures or really dry air

  • deviated nasal septum

  • exposure to certain chemicals such as perfume, cleaning products, smoke or other irritants

What are symptoms of post nasal drip?

  • sore throat

  • cough

  • constant desire to clear throat

  • difficulty swallowing 

  • nasal congestion

  • feeling of thick mucus in the back of the throat that is difficult to get out

What providers may recommend?

  •  over the counter

    • nasal saline drop or nasal irrigation (Netty pot or Neil med nasal rinse) to help relieve nasal congestion and to rinse irritants from sinuses

    • nasal decongestant sprays (Flonase) or oral decongestant tablets (Medi phenyl)

    • oral expectorants (Mucinex) a medication to thin mucus

    • cough medicine (Robitussin), or antihistamines like (Claritin) for cough and nasal congestion

  • humidification or steam inhalation (with warm showers)

  • keep well hydrated to keep mucus thin and easy to bring up

Please Note that antibiotics are not usually helpful with treating viral post nasal drip, unless symptoms are related to a bacterial infection of the sinuses

Lifestyle modifications and home remedies

  • drink plenty of fluids

    • water, juice, clear both, or warm water with lemon

    • avoid caffeine and alcohol which can be dehydrating

  • eat chicken or vegetable soup

    • soup and other warm fluids can be soothing and can loosen congestion

  • make sure to get enough rest

    • if possible stay home from school/work to give time to recover, and reduce the chances of infecting others

  • adjust room temperature and humidity

    • keep room warm, but not overheated

    • if the air is dry consider using a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer to moisten the air

    • make sure to keep the humidifier clean to prevent mold and bacterial growth

  • sleep sitting up or with head elevated on 2 pillows to aid in making breathing easier and also to prevent mucus from collecting in the back of the throat

  • sooth throat with warm water gargles

    • consider adding a ¼ to ½  teaspoon of salt in 4-8 ounces of warm water for temporary sore or scratchy throat relief

What should one do if symptoms persist or worsen?

If symptoms persist or worsen please make an appointment to follow up with a private medical provider right away, or call Kean University Student Health Services (SHS) at (908) 737-4880 to be evaluated by one of our  qualified medical providers.  SHS is here to help in the pursuit of staying healthy during this cold and flu season.


This article was written by Student Health Services.