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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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

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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.

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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?"

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