You’re sniffling and coughing and your throat feels like an open wound. Maybe you have a headache, too, and your body aches like you’ve really overdone it at the gym. Is this a cold, or could it be the flu? A lot of people ask themselves this question when they feel this way. Which is hardly surprising, because the common cold and flu (influenza) share some similar symptoms. But there are also significant differences. To start with, cold symptoms are usually milder infection than flu. With far less chance of complications developing, especially serious ones. So it makes sense to learn to tell the difference between the two conditions, and when you should contact your GP.
In this article we look at the symptoms of a Cold. Please read our other articles and learn more about the flu.
How to recognise a cold
Most of the symptoms of a cold are the result of an infection causing inflammation of the upper airways: the nose, throat and sinuses. Usually starting in the throat and developing gradually, those symptoms are:
- A sore throat
- Coughing, usually bringing up mucus
- A blocked and/or runny nose
- An impaired sense of taste and smell
- Watering eyes
- Pressure in the ears
A heavy cold
You know you’ve caught a heavy cold when you also have the following symptoms:
- Mild muscle pain
- A headache
- Pain in the ears
- Swollen and/or painful glands in the neck
- Mild fever, although this is very rare in adults. Young children can run a temperature of up to about 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit)
In general, a cold lasts one to three weeks. In children it can take longer to pass.
If you have a caugh combined with the following cold symptoms, we advise you to consult your GP:
- Your cough persists for more than two weeks
- You cough up blood or unusually large amounts of mucus
- Your temperature is higher than 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than three days
- Your fever eases for a short while but then comes back
- You are short of breath or wheezing
- You feel constantly drowsy
Once you’ve caught a cold, there’s really nothing you can do but sit it out. Antibiotics are no help. But you can ease some of the symptoms, like the sore throat and headache, by:
- Taking a painkiller like paracetamol for a headache or muscle pain
- Using decongestant nasal drops, such as a saline solution, to relieve a blocked nose
- Keeping your natural resistance high by eating healthily and making sure you get a good night’s sleep. This helps your immune system fight the cold virus
Fifteen tips to beat colds
Colds – how can you beat them? Can you ever prevent those awful sore throats and that terrible bunged up feeling? Or at least get rid of them faster? What really helps? We’ve all had colds – and some of us seem plagued by them, year after year – so we’ve all wondered how to avoid, prevent and overcome them.
No vaccine, no cure. It’s pretty much impossible to banish colds from your life. The viruses which cause them are too easily spread through coughs, sneezes and infected items like door handles and cutlery. There’s still no vaccine against the common cold, and no cure. Antibiotics are no help, either. Just about the only sure thing you can do is make sure you have a strong immune system so that you’re less likely to catch a cold and your body can fight it if you do.
In this article we share some tried and tested tips to increase your resistance to colds, to reduce the chance of infection and to speed your recovery. Good luck!
There are several ways to cut the risk of picking up a cold virus. These also work against flu .
- Wash your hands regularly. This reduces the chance of catching a cold from other people’s hands and contaminated surfaces or objects
- Properly ventilate your home and workplace. This reduces the chance of breathing in a virus in the air
- Maintain a good general standard of hygiene. In particular, regularly clean ‘shared’ objects and surfaces: door handles, bannisters, keyboards, telephones, TV remote controls and so on
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Make sure you get enough sleep
Colds produce some unpleasant Cold symptoms, including a sore throat, a blocked nose and coughing. Follow the tips below to help ease them:
- Treat a blocked nose with a nasal spray containing a saline solution or xylometazoline. But use xylometazoline no more than three times a day for up to week, otherwise it can damage the lining of your airways
- If you have a sore throat, gargle with salty water. Make this yourself by simply dissolving salt in tap water, or buy saline drops from a chemist or pharmacy
- Change your toothbrush. And before cleaning your teeth, heat your toothbrush in the microwave for 10 seconds to kill any bacteria on it
- Suck on cough drops or throat pastilles to soothe your throat
- Rest and avoid stress. This is good for your immune system
- Keep well away from cigarette smoke. This irritates the lining of your airways
- Sniff rather blowing your nose. This clears mucus from the sinuses and reduces the risk of inflammation there
- Cough as often as you need to. This keeps the airways clear
- Consult your GP if you’re short of breath, you cough up blood or unusually large amounts of mucus or you have a fever for more than three days
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Last updated on October 13, 2016.