Cold symptoms typically take a few days to appear. The symptoms of a cold rarely appear suddenly. Knowing the difference between cold and flu symptoms can help you decide how to treat your condition — and whether you need to see your doctor.
Nasal symptoms include:
- sinus pressure
- runny nose
- stuffy nose
- loss of smell or taste
- watery nasal secretions
- postnasal drip or drainage in the back of your throat
Head symptoms include:
- watery eyes
- sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes
Whole body symptoms include:
- fatigue or general tiredness
- body aches
- low-grade fever
- chest discomfort
- difficulty breathing deeply
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a cold, you’re likely looking for relief. Cold treatments fall into two main categories:
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines
The most common OTC medicines used for colds include decongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers. Common “cold” medicines sometimes include a combination of these medicines. If you’re using one, be sure to read the label and understand what you’re taking so you don’t accidentally take more than you should of any one class of drug.
The most effective and common home remedies for a cold include gargling with saltwater, rest, and staying hydrated. Some research also shows that herbs like echinacea may be effective at reducing symptoms of a cold. These treatments don’t cure or treat a cold. Instead, they can just make symptoms less severe and easier to manage.
If you have high blood pressure, talk with your doctor before you take any OTC cold medicine. Most people with high blood pressure can take these medicines with no concerns. However, some decongestant medications work by narrowing blood vessels. This may increase your blood pressure, and if you already have blood pressure issues, the medicine may complicate your condition.
Diagnosing a cold rarely requires a trip to your doctor’s office. Recognizing symptoms of a cold is often all you need in order to diagnose yourself. Of course, if symptoms worsen or persist after about a week’s time, you may need to see your doctor. You may actually be showing symptoms of a different problem, such as the flu or strep throat.
If you have a cold, you can expect the virus to work its way out in about a week to 10 days. If you have the flu, this virus may take the same amount of time to fully disappear, but if you notice symptoms are getting worse after day five, or if they’ve not disappeared in a week, you may have developed another condition.
The only way to definitively know if your symptoms are the result of a cold or the flu is to have your doctor run a series of tests. Because the symptoms and treatments for a cold and the flu are very similar, a diagnosis only helps you make sure you’re paying more attention to your recovery.
The common cold is a viral infection in your upper respiratory tract. Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. In most cases, viruses like the cold just need to run their course. You can treat the symptoms of the infection, but you can’t actually treat the infection itself.
The average common cold lasts anywhere from seven to 10 days. Depending on your overall health, you may have symptoms for more or less time. For example, people who smoke or have asthma may experience symptoms longer.
If your symptoms do not ease or disappear in seven to 10 days, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Symptoms that don’t go away could be a sign of a bigger problem, such as the flu or strep throat.
Colds are very minor, but they are inconvenient and can certainly be miserable. You can’t get a vaccine to prevent colds like you can the flu. But you can do a few key things during cold season to help you avoid picking up one of the viruses.
Here are four tips for cold prevention:
Wash your hands. Old-fashioned soap and water is the best way to stop the spread of germs. Only use antibacterial gels and sprays as a last resort when you can’t get to a sink.
Take care of your gut. Eat plenty of bacteria-rich foods like yogurt, or take a daily probiotic supplement. Keeping your gut bacteria community healthy can help your overall health.
Avoid sick people. This is reason number one sick people shouldn’t come into work or school. It’s very easy to share germs in tight quarters like offices or classrooms. If you notice someone isn’t feeling well, go out of your way to avoid them. Be sure to wash your hands after coming into contact them.
Cover your cough. Likewise, if you’re feeling sick, don’t keep infecting people around you. Cover your cough with a tissue or cough and sneeze into your elbow so you don’t spray germs into your environment.