woman sneezing in car
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Symptoms Come On Fast

When you have a cold, symptoms like a stuffy nose or sneezing start slowly and gradually get worse. Flu symptoms typically hit your body all of a sudden -- and they'll probably feel a lot stronger.

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socks blanket and cup of tea
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This is when you shiver because your body temperature changes. Chills aren’t typical signs of a cold -- they’re an early sign of infection and high fever. They're more common with flu or pneumonia.

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checking thermometer
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This is a sign that your body is trying to fight an illness or infection, but it's rarely caused by a cold. Flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia are more common causes of fevers.

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sore shoulder
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Body Aches

You may have some slight body aches with a cold, but stronger ones are usually a sign that you have the flu. This is because short-term achy muscles often happen along with a fever.

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doctor listening with stethoscope
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This is when your breathing sounds like a whistle. If you wheeze, it’s a sign of a more serious infection like pneumonia or bronchitis, especially if it happens when you lie down. Wheezing also can be a sign of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction to something you ate or an insect bite.

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woman coughing
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Cough With Mucus

You may have a mild, pesky cough from a cold, but if you cough up mucus -- slimy stuff from deep down in your chest -- it’s usually a sign of bronchitis or pneumonia, especially if there's any blood in it.

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sleeping on train
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Feeling like you have no energy or appetite is a typical symptom of the flu -- it’s less often caused by a cold. It can also be a sign of pneumonia or a sinus infection, which is common but more serious than a cold.

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sore throat
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Sore Throat

A mild one is a typical symptom of a cold and sometimes the flu. It should clear up once your cold or flu does. But a very painful sore throat that comes on quickly can be a sign of strep throat. That’s a bacterial infection that should be treated with antibiotics.    

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headache concept
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Many things can cause this, but a cold isn't usually one of them. It's a common flu symptom and can be a sign of a sinus infection. But painful sinuses, the spaces above and around your nose, can also be caused by hay fever, or rhinitis.

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tight chest
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Chest Tightness or Pain

This is a telltale symptom of a more serious respiratory infection, like bronchitis. That can also make your chest feel tight, and you may have a hard time taking a deep breath. Sharp chest pain that feels worse when you cough can be a sign of pneumonia, and chest tightness is also a common symptom of asthma.

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normal bronchial tube vs bronchitis
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Shortness of Breath

Colds can cause a very stuffy nose, which make breathing a little harder, but real shortness of breath is a sign of something more serious. It's a common symptom of asthma or a flare-up of COPD, and it also can be from a serious infection, like bronchitis or pneumonia. 

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ear pain
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Ear, Face, or Eye Pressure

If you feel pressure in your ears, it may mean you have a sinus infection. That also causes pain and pressure around your eyes, cheeks, or forehead that gets worse when you bend over. And if you feel fullness in one ear, it may be a symptom of an ear infection.

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checking smartphone calendar
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Symptoms That Don't Go Away

Flu symptoms may be bad, but they usually get better within a few days. A cold can last up to 10 days. But pneumonia symptoms can stick around up to a month or longer. And bronchitis can last several months in some cases.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 07/25/2019 Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on July 25, 2019


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CDC: “Cold Versus Flu,” “Strep Throat: All You Need to Know.”

MedlinePlus.gov: "Fever.”

Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition: “Chapter 211: Fevers, Chills, and Night Sweats.”

Nicklaus Children’s Hospital: “Chills.”

American Lung Association: “Pneumonia,” “Shortness of Breath: Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors.”

Asthma UK: “Symptoms of Asthma.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Bronchitis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Fever,” “Wheezing,” “Food Allergy,” “Acute Sinusitis,” “Fatigue Causes.”

Harvard Medical School: “Influenza: how to prevent and treat a serious infection,” “How long does the flu last?”

FamilyDoctor.org: “When a Chest Cold Is Something More.”

American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: “Headaches Connected to Allergies and Sinus Problems,” “Rhinitis (Hay Fever),” “Sinus Infection.”

Teens Health From Nemours: “Coping With Colds (For Teens).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Pediatric Ear Infections.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on July 25, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.