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

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Is It Allergies Instead of a Cold?

Sometimes you might mistake symptoms of the common cold for allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. If your cold symptoms begin quickly and are over within one to two weeks, chances are it's a cold and not an allergy. If the symptoms last longer than two weeks, check with your health care provider to see if you've developed an allergy.

Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system. For some reason, your body overreacts to substances such as dust or pollen. It then releases chemicals such as histamine. This can cause swelling in your nasal passages, a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing. Allergies are not contagious, although some people may inherit a tendency to develop them.

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

Is It the Flu?

How do you know when common cold symptoms might indicate the flu? Take your temperature. A mild case of the flu often mimics common cold symptoms, but a cold rarely raises your temperature above 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

Flu is an acute respiratory infection caused by a variety of influenza viruses. It often involves muscle aches and soreness, headache, and fever. Flu viruses enter your body through the mucus membranes of your nose, eyes, or mouth. Every time you touch your hand to one of these areas, you are possibly infecting yourself with a virus; this makes it very important to keep your hands germ-free with frequent hand washing.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu or Cold Symptoms?

When to Call the Doctor About Cold Symptoms

Except in newborns, the common cold is not dangerous. Symptoms usually go away in a week or two without any special treatment. Unfortunately, colds can wear down your body's resistance, making you more susceptible to bacterial infections.

If your common cold symptoms are severe and aren't improving, seek medical attention. Your doctor likely will examine your throat and ears and listen to your lungs. He or she may take a throat culture by brushing your throat with a long cotton-tipped swab. This will show whether you have a bacterial infection that requires treatment with antibiotics.

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