Home » Self-Care Promotion » Guideline on how to promote self-care: Cold » 2. Identify and select common and specific patients’/general population self-care behaviours

2. Identify and select common and specific patients’/general population self-care behaviours

Identify and select common and specific patients’/general population self-care behaviours that you want to promote (depending on the context problem you want to address)

Identify and select common and specific patients’/general population self-care behaviours
  • Specify and describe the population/patients that you want to address with the intervention
  • Identify the general and specific patients’/general population self-care behaviours that the intervention aims to promote

2.1. Specify and describe the patients/general population that you want to address with the self-care strategy

Once you have evaluated the context and key issues and reflected if the strategy you are defining is a general strategy for self-care or specific to common cold the next step should be to define if the strategy should be aimed to the general populations/patients or a specific group.

For the case of common cold there is probably no specific target population, as all the general population is affected by it.

However there are some specific groups that should have special considerations as they might be more vulnerable to complications or misdiagnosis:

  • Children under 3
    Children are particularly prone to get common cold. The average episodes in adulthood are 2 to 3, whereas in preschool children the average episodes are from 5 to 7 [3].
    Although children are prone to get several colds a year, cold are aren’t usually serious. However any self-care strategy should take into consideration that children have a higher risk of developing complications such as ear infections and very occasionally other more serious problems such as pneumonia[5].
  • Pregnant women or women that are breastfeeding
  • Eldery people
  • People with co-morbidities

2.2. Identify the general and specific patients’/general population self-care behaviours that the intervention aims to promote

A key step if you want to establish a strategy to promote self-care is to determine the self-care behaviours. Establishing those target behaviours will guide the development of the strategy and it will help identifying the mechanisms that can hinder or facilitate the promotion of self-care.

Depending on the results of the analysis of your context and issues that you want to address you can identify different behaviours to promote.

The following table presents considerations specific to cold for each of the main phases of self-care as well as some reflections regarding the patients/general population needs to achieve those goals.

All the behaviours included are considered relevant, however this classification might help to focus the self-care promotion strategy in a specific target.

Main stages of the cycle of self-care
Main self-care behaviours to promote
Prevention and healthy lifestyles
  • Avoiding inhaling the air from another person sneezing or coughing, routinely washing hands and avoiding touching the mucous membranes (conjunctiva, nasal and oral mucosa).
  • Sneezing and coughing into tissues as this will help to prevent the virus-containing droplets from nose and mouth entering the air where they can infect others; throwing away used tissues immediately and to wash hands.
  • Cleaning surfaces regularly.
  • Hand washing is an essential and highly effective way to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Hands should be washed before preparing food and eating and after coughing, blowing the nose, or sneezing.
  • While it is not always possible to limit contact with people who may be infected with a cold, touching the eyes, nose, or mouth after direct contact should be avoided when possible.
  • In addition, tissues should be used to cover the mouth when sneezing or coughing. These used tissues should be disposed of promptly.
  • There is no evidence that rinsing and gargling antiseptic solutions have shown any benefit.
Symptom recognition and evaluation
  • Identifying symptoms associated with cold:
    • Sore throat
    • Cough
    • Nasal congestion
    • Fever

    A 2015 US study found that people that had experienced cold reported that colds typically started with sore/scratchy throat (39.2%), nasal congestion (9.8%), and runny nose (9.3%) and lasted 3–7 days. Cough, the most common cold symptom (73.1%), had a delayed onset (typically 1–5 days after cold onset) and a long duration (>6 days in 35.2%). Nasal congestion and cough were the most bothersome symptoms. [6]

  • Being aware about the length of the cold symptoms:
    • Cold caused by rhinovirus can last up to two weeks.
Treatment decision-making
  • Using treatment directed to the relief of the symptoms (sore throat, cough, nasal congestion, sneezing, rhinorrhea, headache, fever).
  • Combining treatment with rest, adequate fluid intake, eating healthily, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and maybe steam inhalation.
  • Avoiding antibiotics unless they are prescribed.
    • Taking a timely decision to treat: many people with cold wait until symptoms are ‘bad enough’ (42.6%) or multiple symptoms are present (20.2%) before using non prescription medications. [6]
Treatment adherence As the treatment of cold is directed towards symptom relief, the adherence to such treatments might not be as problematic as with other conditions, the most salient issue might be following treatment directions such as schedules, accompanying intake with food, etc.
Self-monitoring & early detection of complications
  • Consulting a healthcare professionals if symptoms and signs such as the following are detected:


  • Increased respiratory rate when the person is at rest and open nasal airflow.
  • Persistent fever after two/three attempts to bring it down or high fever (39°C or 102.2°F).
  • Recently developed petechia (pinpoint red spots in the skin).
  • History of febrile seizure.
  • Symptoms persist for more than three weeks.


  • A baby aged less than three months develops a fever higher than 38°C.
  • Cold symptoms last for more than 10 days, particularly if the child is coughing up green, yellow or brown sputum or has a fever – this could be a sign of a bacterial infection that needs treatment with antibiotics.
  • Child is finding it difficult to breathe.
  • Child complains of pain in the nasal passages after two to four days of home treatment.
  • Baby or child has, or seems to have, severe earache (babies with earache often rub their ears and seem irritable).
  • Child complains of throat pain for longer than three or four days, or their throat pain seems unusually severe.
  • Child develops other symptoms such as pain or swelling in the face or in the chest, a headache or a very bad sore throat.
  • Child seems to be getting worse rather than better.
  • A rash appears and it does not blanche when pressure applied (i.e. rash does not disappear when a glass tumbler is rolled over the skin).


  • Might require a closer follow-up by healthcare professionals.