Some people may also have symptoms for more or less time, depending on their overall health. Smokers and people with asthma, for instance, experience the signs and symptoms of the common cold for a longer time compared to others.
How do you know when it is not a cold?
The signs and symptoms of the common cold share similarities with other conditions, such as the flu or allergies. Other health complications may occur due to the presence of the common cold.
What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
The cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses and can manifest similar symptoms. However, the two conditions are caused by different viruses and a better understanding of the signs and symptoms of the common cold and the flu will help differentiate the two.
The shared symptoms of the common cold and the flu are:
- a runny or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- body aches
- general fatigue
When is the illness the flu rather than just the common cold? Generally, flu symptoms are more severe and felt sooner than cold symptoms. People with the flu also feel weak and tired for up to two to three weeks. Symptoms of the flu often include a headache and a fever that comes and goes, accompanied by periods of chills and cold sweats.
Colds or allergy?
One way of determining if the signs and symptoms of the common cold point to something else is to determine if there is a pattern to the condition.
If the colds suddenly develop and happen at the same time every year, these may actually be seasonal allergies. Colds and seasonal allergies share some of the same symptoms, but are very different diseases.
While the common cold is caused by a virus, seasonal allergies are immune system responses triggered by exposure to allergens, such as seasonal tree or grass pollens, or changes in the weather.
Treatment of seasonal allergies may include over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays and decongestants, and avoidance of exposure to allergy triggers. Seasonal allergies may last several weeks. Symptoms of seasonal allergies include cough, slight feeling of fatigue or weakness, itchy eyes, sneezing, and runny and stuffy nose.
When to see your doctor
When your condition persists after a week, set an appointment with your doctor. More severe symptoms may also need medical attention, such as a fever greater than 101.3ᴼF (38.5ᴼC), fever lasting five days or more or returning after a fever-free period, shortness of breath, wheezing, and severe sore throat, headache, or sinus pain.
Tests will determine whether you have the signs and symptoms of the common cold, the flu, or something else entirely. Sometimes, colds lead to a bacterial infection in the lungs, sinuses, or ears. In such cases, antibiotics may be prescribed, which work against bacteria but not against viruses. It is important to see a doctor to rule out serious illnesses.