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


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 Farenheit.

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.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • An earache
  • Pain around the nose and eyes (sinuses) for more than a week
  • Fever above 102 degrees Farenheit. If your child is younger than 3 months (12 weeks) and has a temperature of 100.4 degrees Farenheit or higher, call your doctor right away. 
  • Fever that lasts more than a day in a child under 2 or more than three days in a child age 2 or older
  • Cough that produces phlegm for more than a week
  • Shortness of breath
  • Worsening symptoms
  • Cold symptoms that last longer than two weeks
  • Trouble  swallowing
  • A sore throat for more than five days
  • stiff neck or sensitivity to bright lights

Also seek medical attention if:

  • You are pregnant or nursing and develop cold symptoms
  • Your newborn or infant has cold symptoms
  • Your cold symptoms worsen after the third day



WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 11, 2012
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