The common cold afflicts more than one billion people every year. This condition is characterized by a fairly well-recognized set of symptoms, but it can be confusing to reach an accurate identification of a cold. An estimated 100 or more viruses are potential culprits in the common cold, and exactly what symptoms you have and how you feel will depend on which of these viruses caused the infection, as well as your overall health at the time. In general, there are a few ways to identify cold symptoms.
Symptoms. The most well-known symptoms associated with colds are a sore throat, coughing and sneezing, and congestion. Post-nasal drip and sinus headaches are common. You may feel nauseated and fatigued, and some cases of the cold are accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. The primary differentiating factor between a cold and influenza is that the latter tends to be more severe and often lasts longer.
Duration. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “People are most contagious for the first 2 to 3 days of a cold. A cold is usually not contagious after the first week.” Despite this relatively short period for contagion, cold symptoms can persist for several weeks. In most cases, any attendant nausea and vomiting will generally disappear within the first several days. Sore throat, coughing, sneezing and congestion are the most likely symptoms to last longer.
Severity. In most cases, the symptoms of a cold will be uncomfortable and, in a few cases, may require a day or two of bed rest. Many people with a cold have been able to return to normal activities while they’re still symptomatic, but after they’ve passed the period of contagion. A common cold very rarely develops into other, more severe complications, but there are some more severe conditions that can masquerade as a cold. If you’re immune deficient, or if your cold symptoms persist longer than usual, consult a qualified health care provider to ensure that your symptoms aren’t due to some other condition or to avoid serious complications.