11
September
2012

Symptoms of a cold

Find out if you have a cold or something more serious

If you have symptoms of a cold, you are not alone.  It is one of the most common sicknesses, and it affects people around the world.  Perhaps your nose is running, you have a sore throat, and you can’t stop sneezing.  You think you probably have a cold, but how can you know for sure?  Here we offer an overview of the most frequent signs to help you decide if you have one or if it is some other illness.

Symptoms of a cold

A person who has contracted a cold will often show these common symptoms:

  • Runny nose and/or nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy or sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fatigue

These symptoms may also occur; however, these may also be signs of the flu or allergies:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Watery eyes
  • Headache
Cold, Influenza, or Allergies?

Since all of these illnesses share several symptoms, it is sometimes difficult to tell which one you have.  It is important to remember that cold symptoms are typically milder than those of the flu. The flu is characterized by persistent and painful body aches, severe headaches, a high fever, chills, weakness and fatigue, and a dry cough.  To learn more, check out our article which tells you more about the differences between a cold and the flu.

The common cold and allergies (or hay fever) also share many signs, including sneezing, congestion, and watery/itchy eyes.  However, hay fever symptoms tend to be chronic, unlike those of the common cold which usually disappear within a couple of weeks.  Contact your doctor if your symptoms are long-lasting, as you may have developed an allergy.

When to see a doctor

Since colds are a common ailment and a cure does not exist, it is usually not necessary to see a doctor.  You can often self-diagnose and take over-the-counter medications to help yourself feel better.  However, you should see your physician if you experience any of the following:

  • Symptoms lasting longer than 10 days
  • A fever of 103° F or higher
  • Any fever accompanied by chills, sweating, or coughing that produces dark phlegm
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dramatically swollen glands
  • Severe sinus pain
  • Symptoms that worsen after three or four days
Women who are pregnant should visit their doctor when experiencing even normal symptoms.

If you decide to visit your physician, he or she will diagnose you based on a respiratory exam and your account of your symptoms. Laboratory tests are not only unnecessary, but are ineffective in diagnosing a common cold. These tests may be used, however, if your physician suspects a different problem or a complication.

What about babies?

When a baby gets a cold, the same symptoms tend to appear. A congested or runny nose and a nasal discharge are very common. The baby's symptoms may also include a low-grade fever of about 100.4 F (38 °C), coughing, sneezing, difficulty sleeping or a decrease in appetite.

Most colds that occur in babies are not very serious. However, it is still important to take the symptoms seriously. If your baby is 3 months old, or older, call the doctor if he has a temperature higher than 102 F (38.9 °C), seems to have ear pain, has red eyes, a cough for more than a week, has nasal discharge for more than 2 weeks, or just if you’re worried about any symptom that doesn't seem right to you.

If he coughs up blood-tinged sputum or hard enough to cause vomiting or changes in skin color or if he has trouble breathing, seek medical help immediately.

What to do next

As you now know, there are many signs that may suggest that you have a cold.  What's more, certain signs may also be indicative of the flu or allergies.  If you believe that your symptoms are too severe, contact your doctor.  If you do have a cold and not some other illness, you can usually treat yourself with over-the-counter medication or natural home remedies.

To see some home remedies that you can use to treat a cold, click here.

  • Tags: allergies cold common cold flu symptoms
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Categories: Cold

Michelle Spatz, Amanda Maynes

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