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The common cold

FEATURED REVIEW Since July 2008 some products can be sold over the counter in France for the self-medication of about 20 common medical conditions. Prescrire has decided to provide key information to healthcare professionals and the public in order to help them cope with these conditions. This review deals with the common cold.
Full review (2p) in English available for download by subscribers.

- Click here for full review (subscribers only).


  • Most colds are due to viruses and resolve spontaneously after a few days.
  • Available drugs do not modify the course of a viral cold.
  • Some drugs used to treat colds carry a risk of serious adverse effects. This includes nasal sprays, especially vasoconstrictors such as pseudoephedrine and, in young children, menthol, camphor, and terpene derivatives.
  • No currently available drugs can cure the common cold.
  • Physiological saline is often used to moisten or unblock nasal airways, but its efficacy is unproven. Adverse effects are limited to temporary discomfort.
  • It is best not to use pressurised nasal sprays in infants, owing to the risk of serious accidents.