Common Cold symptoms typically appear one to three days after the body is infected with a cold virus. The “incubation” period is the brief period before symptoms appear. Symptoms usually disappear in seven to ten days, but they can last from two to fourteen days.
Runny nose or nasal congestion
One of the most common symptoms of a cold is a runny nose or nasal congestion (stuffy nose). Excess fluid causes blood vessels and mucous membranes in the nose to swell, resulting in these symptoms. Within three days, nasal discharge thickens and turns yellow or green in colour. These types of nasal discharge are considered normal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A cold may also cause postnasal drip, in which mucus travels from the nose to the throat.
Colds frequently cause these nasal symptoms. However, if they persist for more than 10 days, you develop yellow/green nasal discharge, or you experience severe headaches or sinus pain, you may have developed a sinus infection (called sinusitis).
When the mucous membranes of the nose and throat become irritated, sneezing occurs. When a cold virus infects nasal cells, the body produces histamine and other natural inflammatory mediators. When inflammatory mediators are released, blood vessels dilate and leak, and mucus glands secrete fluid. This causes the irritation that results in sneezing.
A cold can be accompanied by a dry cough or one that produces mucus, known as a wet or productive cough. Coughs are usually the last cold-related symptom to disappear, and they can last anywhere from one to three weeks. If your cough lasts for several days, see your doctor.
You should also see your doctor if you have any of the cough-related symptoms listed below:
- a cough accompanied by blood
- a cough accompanied by yellow or green mucus that is thick and smells bad
- a severe cough that comes on suddenly
- a cough in a person with a heart condition or who has swollen legs
- a cough that worsens when you lie down
- a cough accompanied by a loud noise when you breathe in
- a cough accompanied by fever
- a cough accompanied by night sweating or sudden weight loss
- your child who is less than 3 months old has a cough
A sore throat is dry, itchy, and scratchy, making swallowing painful and even making solid food difficult to eat. Inflamed tissues caused by a cold virus can cause a sore throat. It can also be caused by postnasal drip or by simply being exposed to a hot, dry environment for an extended period of time.
Mild headaches and body aches
A cold virus can cause minor all-over body aches or headaches in some people. These symptoms are more common when you have the flu.
Those suffering from a common cold may experience a low-grade fever. Contact your doctor if you or your child (6 weeks and older) has a fever of 100.4°F or higher. If your child is under 3 months old and has a fever of any kind, the CDC advises you to contact your doctor.
Watery eyes and mild fatigue are some of the other symptoms of a common cold.
When to see a doctor
Symptoms of the common cold are usually not serious and can be treated with fluids and rest. Colds, on the other hand, should not be taken lightly in infants, the elderly, or those with chronic health conditions. A common cold can be fatal to society’s most vulnerable members if it develops into a serious chest infection like bronchiolitis, which is caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
With a common cold, you are unlikely to develop a high fever or be exhausted. These are symptoms that are frequently associated with the flu. So, if you have any of the following symptoms, consult your doctor:
- cold symptoms that last longer than 10 days
- fever of 100.4°F or higher
- a fever with sweating, chills, or a cough that produces mucus
- severely swollen lymph nodes
- sinus pain that is severe
- ear pain
- chest pain
- trouble breathing or shortness of breath
See your child’s pediatrician immediately if your child:
- is under 6 weeks and has a fever of 100°F or higher
- is 6 weeks or older and has a fever of 101.4°F or higher
- has a fever that has lasted for more than three days
- has cold symptoms (of any type) that have lasted for more than 10 days
- is vomiting or having abdominal pain
- is having difficulty breathing or is wheezing
- has a stiff neck or severe headache
- is not drinking and is urinating less than usual
- is having trouble swallowing or is drooling more than usual
- is complaining of ear pain
- has a persistent cough
- is crying more than usual
- seems unusually sleepy or irritable
- has a blue or gray tint to their skin, especially around the lips, nose, and fingernails