The common cold shares symptoms with several other viruses but usually begins with a sore throat and runny nose. Viruses that cause a cold circulate year-round, but typically start making people sick in the United States in the winter and early springtime.
Some or all of these symptoms are typical signs of the common cold. Typically, symptoms appear gradually over time:
It is best to seek care if you have symptoms that worsen or persist more than 10 days. If you begin developing flu symptoms or are at high risk for flu complications (children under 5, adults 65 and older, pregnant women and individuals with asthma, diabetes or heart disease), consult with your primary care provider as soon as possible. They will be the best resource for you to determine the next course of treatment. Generally, flu symptoms are often more severe than a cold and can include fever, fatigue or severe body aches.
The common cold, flu and COVID-19 are all contagious illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Because many of the symptoms are similar, it may be difficult to tell the difference between each virus based on symptoms alone.
Each virus can be spread from person to person and is spread mainly by droplets when those who have the virus cough, sneeze or talk. In addition, it is possible to spread these viruses through contact with an infected person or by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then one’s own mouth, nose or possibly eyes.
The best way to protect yourself from the common cold is to practice good hygiene. Hand-washing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, and keeping your distance from those who are feeling ill will help you avoid a cold. If you begin to feel ill, stay home while you are sick, avoid close contact with others, wash your hands, disinfect surfaces often, and cough into your elbow or a tissue.
Common colds are mild illnesses. Recovery can consist of rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking over-the-counter medications to help ease symptoms. Be sure to consult with your provider or your child’s provider prior to administering over-the-counter medications. Over-the-counter medications are not a cure, and antibiotics are not used to treat the common cold viruses.
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