Skip to content

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Select An Article

Common Cold Symptoms: What’s Normal, What’s Not

Font Size

Your nose is running, you've got a cough, and your throat is raw. Is it a cold, allergies, or the flu?

There are similarities to all three, but a few telltale signs can help you tell them apart.

Recommended Related to Cold & Flu

I’ve Got a Cold: What Can I Do?

There is no cure for the common cold. The most important thing you can do is drink a lot of fluids to keep your body hydrated. This will help prevent another infection from setting in. Avoid drinks like coffee, tea, and colas with caffeine. They may rob your system of fluids. As for eating, follow your appetite. If you're not really hungry, try eating simple foods like white rice or broth. Chicken soup is comforting, plus the steam helps break up nasal congestion. Ginger seems to settle an upset...

Read the I’ve Got a Cold: What Can I Do? article > >

The Start of a Cold

It usually begins with a sore throat, and before you know it, you've also got these symptoms:

You usually don't get a fever with a cold. If you do, it may be a sign you've got the flu or an infection with a bacteria.

For the first few days that you're sick, your runny nose will be watery, but it turns thicker and darker after that. You may also get a mild cough that can last into the second week of your cold.

Since a cold can make your asthma worse, check with your doctor to see if you need to change your regular treatment plan.

If you cough up thick or dark mucus or you get a fever, you may have an infection with a bacteria. See your doctor to find out how to treat it. Also see him if your cough doesn't get better after a few weeks.

Your symptoms usually start between 1 and 3 days after you get infected with a cold virus. They typically last for about 3 to 7 days. By then the worst is over, but you may feel stuffed up for a week or more.

You're most contagious during the first 3 days that you're sick, but it's still possible to spread it during the first week.

Is It Allergies Instead of a Cold?

Sometimes you might mistake cold symptoms for hay fever. If they begin quickly and are over in 1 to 2 weeks, chances are it's not an allergy.

Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system, your defense against germs. Your body overreacts to things like dust or pollen. It then releases chemicals like histamine. This causes the passageways in your nose to swell, leading to a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing

Hay fever isn't contagious, but some people may inherit a tendency to get it.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's "Common Cold or Allergies?"

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
cold weather
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
woman with fever
Waking up from sleep
woman with sore throat