Common Cold Center

Cold Symptoms

Common cold symptoms
A common cold is usually harmless, although it may not feel that way. You probably know many of the symptoms of a cold: sneezing, sore throat, a stuffy nose, and coughing.  But because more than 200 viruses can cause a common cold, cold symptoms tend to vary greatly.

Symptoms of a cold usually begin 2 or 3 days after infection and last 2 to 14 days. A cold can last for about one week, but some colds last longer, especially in children, elderly people, and those in poor health.

Cold vs. flu symptoms?
Most respiratory illnesses come and go within a few days, with no lasting effects. Often spread through contact with mucus, colds come on gradually. This time factor is one of the major difference between colds and flus: flu comes on suddenly, is more serious, and lasts longer than colds.  What also makes a cold different from other viral infections is that you generally won't have a high fever. You're also unlikely to experience significant fatigue from a common cold.

Colds are usually distinguished by a stuffy or runny nose and sneezing. The discharge from your nose may become thicker and yellow or green in color as a common cold runs its course. Other symptoms include coughing, a scratchy throat, and watery eyes. one and three days after a cold virus enters the body, symptoms start developing, such as:

  • congestion
  • coughing
  • fatigue
  • fever up to 102 F or 39 C
  • headache
  • scratchy sore throat
  • slight body aches
  • sneezing
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • watery eyes
  • weakened sense of smell and taste

When to seek help
In most cases, you don't need to see your doctor when you experience a cold. See a doctor if you aren't getting any better or if your symptoms worsen. Mucus buildup from a viral infection can lead to a bacterial infection (Ex. bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, and pneumonia).  If you notice any of the symptoms below, call your doctor. Signs of problem symptoms include:

  • cold symptoms for more than 10 days
  • cough that disrupts sleep or produces mucus
  • ear, face or sinus pain
  • feeling faint or fainting
  • fever that won't go down
  • increased shortness of breath
  • loss of appetite
  • pain in the chest
  • unusual drowsiness
  • severe or persistent vomiting
  • swollen glands
  • worsening of symptoms, high fever, chest pain, or a difference in the mucus you're producing, all after feeling better for a short time
  • trouble breathing, fast breathing or wheezing

To learn more about how doctors diagnose a cold and how to get rid of a cold, read the next section now. 

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