A common cold is usually perceived as a harmless illness. You are sick for a few days, then bounce back and resume your life. However, how can you tell when a cold is just a cold or something worse? When is it appropriate to care for you at home, and when should you seek medical treatment? Many people just play it by ear, but here are some guidelines to help you the next time you feel that nasty common cold creeping in.
Cold symptoms vary person to person, although the most typical symptoms that indicate a common cold include:
- Congested and/or runny nose
- Coughing and/or sneezing
- Sore throat
- Chest congestion
- Watery, irritated eyes
- Body aches
- Low-grade fever
Signs of an oncoming cold will begin a few days before symptoms emerge in full force. Your throat might begin to feel scratchy, sneezing may start, and the nose may be plugged up or be runny.
During the cold, the mucus from a runny nose will likely be yellow or have a green tinge and will clear up as the cold virus leaves your system. Coughing and sneezing should taper off after about a week. The worst congestion and the peak of the other symptoms should only last for a few days. A common cold virus should be completely expelled from your body after a week or two.
Signs Of Other Illnesses
A cold isn't a cold if your symptoms worsen considerably, or you present symptoms that are unusual for a cold. Mucus, for example, shouldn't be dark in color. If the mucus from your nose or mucus that you are coughing up is an odd color, it could be a sign of a bacterial infection. Along similar lines, a cough that is persistent or worsens may indicate bronchitis.
Another telltale sign that your cold has gone awry (or was never a cold in the first place) is the presence of a high fever. Low-grade fevers are common during a cold, but a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher means something else is taking place. In addition, severe body aches, chills, vomiting, or diarrhea are indicators of the flu and not typical for a cold virus.
When you feel a cold coming on, you should stay home if possible. This period is the most contagious. Drink plenty of fluids and rest. Over-the-counter painkillers and decongestants can help ease the discomfort. Seek medical attention for any unusual symptoms, if your cold is sticking around too long, or you develop worsening symptoms. In the case of children, a doctor should be contacted immediately if symptoms are atypical.