Cough, runny nose, sore throat

Key points about cough, runny nose or sore throat

  • Do you have a new cough, runny nose or sore throat?
  • Find out about symptoms, care at home and when to seek help
  • These symptoms can also be the first signs of COVID-19 infection, so it is important to test for this. 
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Infographic showing where to go for healthcare from care at home through to EDImage credit: Te Whatu Ora

The most common cause of a new cough, sore throat or runny nose is a viral infection such as a cold or the flu lasting 1–2 weeks. However, these symptoms can also be the first signs of COVID-19 infection, so it is important to test for this. 

COVID-19 symptoms can include:

Actions to take

  1. If you have any of these symptoms do a rapid antigen test (RAT) at home. 
  2. Report your results at My Covid Record link) or call 0800 222 478.
  3. If your symptoms are mild, you can find helpful self-care tips below. 
  4. COVID-19 positive: what steps do I need to take?
  5. If you have shortness of breath, this could be a sign of pneumonia (lung infection). See below for when to seek urgent medical advice.
  6. If you're unsure what to do, call Healthline 0800 611 116 or your pharmacy for advice.

Rest at home so you don’t spread bugs, and give your body time to recover.
Drink plenty of fluids, warm lemon and honey drinks or soups to avoid dehydration (honey is not safe for children under 1 year old).
If you have a sore throat, suck a teaspoon of honey or gargle with salt water. Adults can also try using a gargle, throat spray or pain-relief (anaesthetic) lozenges.
For a blocked or runny nose you can try a decongestant and saline nasal spray. Also try sleeping propped up on pillows.
For a cough sip a lemon and honey drink or ask your pharmacist about cough lozenges or medicines that may be suitable for you. Cough medicine doesn’t cure a cough but may give you some relief. Read more about cough in childrencough in adults and cough medicines.
If you have post-nasal drip, sleep propped up and you can also try saline rinses, decongestants or antihistamines.
Use your inhaler 
if you have asthma.
For aches and pains
 try paracetamol, ibuprofen OR cold and flu medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what is safe for you.
Check doses carefully to make sure you don't double up as many cold and flu medicines contain paracetamol or ibuprofen. 
Avoid antibiotics as they can’t cure colds, flu or COVID-19 as these are caused by viruses.
Avoid strenuous exercise such as running or swimming. In rare cases, viral infections can affect your heart – at any age.  

Contact your healthcare provider for advice if you:

  • have a sore throat and are Māori or Pasifika aged 3 to 35 years
  • have a cough and you’re short of breath
  • cough up blood
  • are pregnant
  • have diabetes or a health condition affecting your breathing, heart or immune system
  • are aged 65 or older
  • are not getting better after a week
  • are concerned or not sure what to do.


Seek urgent medical advice if you or someone you are caring for develops any of these danger symptoms:  

  • difficulty breathing
  • feeling faint, passing out
  • drowsy, floppy or very difficult to wake up
  • blue around the mouth
  • very pale and cold
  • severe chest pain
  • severe headache or neck pain, light hurting your eyes, rash
  • high fever (38 to 40 degrees Celsius), especially if you're pregnant
  • unusual or high-pitched cry in a baby.

Call 111 urgently and ask for an ambulance.

Apps reviewed by Healthify

You may find it useful to look at some Self-management and healthy living apps.

  • Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds and dry them well
  • cover your coughs with a tissue or cough into your elbow, then wash your hands
  • don’t cough near others
  • avoid touching your face
  • don’t share cups, utensils or towels
  • clean and disinfect surfaces often
  • stay home if you are sick and avoid close contact with others.


preventing dehydration in unwell children

Preventing dehydration in unwell children

Healthify He Puna Waiora, NZ, 2022

got a cold or flu find out what to do fact sheet

Got a cold or flu? Find out what to do factsheet(external link)

Health Promotion Agency, NZ & Healthify He Puna Waiora, NZ

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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