Common Illnesses

Coughs, Colds and Sore Throats

Colds or infections of the upper respiratory system - mouth, ears, nose and throat - are a common ailment in the college population. Generally they are viral in nature and there is no cure or specific treatment. It is often said that a cold will last one week with treatment and seven days without!


Although there is no treatment, there are steps you can take to alleviate your symptoms:

  • Drink lots offluids. This will help reduce any fever and to keep secretions loose. Drink at least eight glasses of water or juice a day - more if you have a fever. Warm fluids will soothe the throat.
  • Rest so your body can fight the cold and prevent it from worsening.
  • If you smoke, stop. The cigarette smoke paralyzes the cilia, or tiny hairs in your lungs, which help move mucus and dust particles out.
  • Gargle with 1/2 tsp salt in four ounces of warm water to relieve a sore throat. Hard candies or lozenges may also be helpful. Do NOT gargle with dissolved aspirins as this can cause injury to the tissues of your throat.
  • A steamy shower or draping a towel over your head and holding it over a bowl of hot water as you breathe in the steam will help break up congestion and moisten a raw, dry throat. Be careful not to burn yourself.
  • Humidify or vaporizeyour room. Dry air causes the mucus membranes of the respiratory tract to dry out making mucus get thick and less effective in fighting infection in the sinuses, middle ear, and bronchi. Remember that both humidifiers and vaporizers need to be cleaned daily to prevent their breeding bacteria and fungi. A commercial cleaner, vinegar solution or bleach solution can be used, but must be rinsed out thoroughly. If you do not have this equipment, you can use deep pans of water placed near a heating source (NO SPACE HEATERS PLEASE!!)
  • Nasal sprays may help relieve nasal congestion, however, they must be used only as directed and only for a two-four day period.
  • Oral decongestants such as Sudafed provide further relief.
  • Aspirin or Tylenol, two tablets every four to six hours, helps reduce the aches and pains that often accompany a cold.
  • Adequate rest, diet, exercise and appropriate dress are necessary for good health.


SymptomMedicationPossible Side-Effects

Muscle Ache

Aspirin* 1-2 tablets every 4 hrs. if needed.
Take with water or milk.
*Tylenol same dose as Aspirin

Stomach irritation
Allergic skin reaction

Nasal/sinus congestion
Pressure in the ears.

*Sudafed 1-2 tablets 3-4 times a day.

Nervousness, trouble sleeping.
Do not take if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart or thyroid disease.

Allergic symptoms,
i.e. itching, watery, burning eyes, runny nose, sneezing.

*Chlor-Trimeton 1 tablet up to 3 times a day.

Drowsiness, dizziness, dryness.
Be careful if you are driving or working with dangerous equipment.

Cough, wet & productive
Dry, non-productive cough.

*Robitussin 2 tsp. 4 times a day.
*Robitussin DM (same dose as Robitussin.)

* Indicates a trade name. Ask pharmacist for a comparable generic product to reduce cost.

When to Seek Professional Care

If your cold symptoms seem to be lasting a long time, or you have any of the following symptoms, call the Health Service or see your own health care provider:

  • A fever greater than 100 degrees or shaking chills
  • A persistent cough that seems to be getting worse
  • You cough up greenish or bloody sputum
  • A history of T.B. or a recent change to a positive T.B. test
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Exposure to strep throat
  • A persistent sore throat or severe discomfort
  • Enlarged lymph glands on the back of your head or side of your neck
  • Ear or facial pain
  • Fatigue lasting more than a week
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • History of rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease
  • White spots on your tonsils

If you have any questions, call the Health Services staff at 978-934-4991 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday, or visit one of the local walk-in clinics after hours.