The common cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract — your nose and throat. A common cold is usually harmless, although it may not feel that way at the time. If it's not a runny nose, sore throat and cough, it's the watery eyes, sneezing and congestion — or maybe all of the above. In fact, because any one of more than 100 viruses can cause a common cold, signs and symptoms tend to vary greatly.
Most people recover from a common cold in about a week or two. If symptoms don't improve, see your doctor.
Symptoms of a common cold usually appear about one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus. Signs and symptoms of a common cold may include:
Runny or stuffy nose
Itchy or sore throat
Slight body aches or a mild headache
For fever, sore throat and headache, many people turn to acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or other mild pain relievers. Keep in mind that acetaminophen
can cause liver damage, especially if taken frequently or in larger than recommended doses. Don't give acetaminophen to children under 3 months of age, be sure to read the product instructions carefully to ensure accurate dosing. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or
teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms
should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such
Decongestant nasal sprays.
Adults shouldn't use decongestant drops or sprays for more than a few days because prolonged use can cause chronic rebound inflammation of mucous
membranes. And children shouldn't use decongestant drops or sprays at all. There's little evidence that they work in young children, and they may cause
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend against giving OTC cough and cold medicines to
children younger than age 2. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines don't effectively treat the underlying cause of a child's cold, and won't cure a
child's cold or make it go away any sooner. These medications also have potential side effects, including rapid heart rate and convulsions.
Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system — your nose, throat and lungs. Influenza is commonly called the flu.
Influenza and its complications can be deadly. People at higher risk of developing flu complications include:
- Young children
- Adults older than 65
- Pregnant women
- People with weakened immune systems
- People who have chronic illnesses
Your best defense against influenza is to receive an annual vaccination.
Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. And although a cold can be a nuisance, you usually feel much worse with the flu.
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever over 100°F (38°C)
- Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
- Chills and sweats
- Dry cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away. Taking antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours after you first notice symptoms may reduce the length of your illness and help prevent more-serious problems.
If you do come down with the flu, these measures may help ease your symptoms:
- Drink plenty of liquids. Choose water, juice and warm soups to prevent dehydration. Drink enough liquid so that your urine is clear or pale yellow.
- Rest. Get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection.
- Consider pain relievers. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), to combat the achiness associated with influenza. Don't give aspirin to children or teens because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal disease.