Millions of people come down with a cold every year, causing them to stay home from work or school and to take over-the-counter medicines. The common cold shares many symptoms in common with other, more serious illnesses, so it is important to be able to figure out if you have a simple cold or something that requires a trip to the doctor and prescription medication.
A cold and the flu are both caused by viruses. They can have similar symptoms, including coughing, sore throat, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, headache, body aches, fever, and fatigue. The flu can come on more quickly than a cold, and the symptoms are more severe. Fever and body aches are more common with the flu than a cold. The flu can also cause chills or sweats and loss of appetite, which are not usually symptoms of a cold. A cold can last up to two weeks, and the flu usually lasts one to two weeks.
To get over a cold or the flu, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. You can try over-the-counter medicine to treat your symptoms. If you have the flu, your doctor may write you a prescription for antiviral medication to shorten the length of your illness. Antiviral medicines are most effective when they are taken early, so visit your doctor as soon as possible if you think you have the flu.
Allergies are caused when a person’s immune system reacts to an environmental trigger, such as pollen or pet dander. Some symptoms of allergies are similar to a cold, such as a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, and fatigue.
Allergies can also cause symptoms that are not commonly associated with a cold, such as itchy or watery eyes. Allergies are more likely to come and go depending on whether or not you are near the source of the trigger. You can relieve your symptoms by identifying and avoiding your trigger, by taking over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines or decongestants, or by getting shots for severe allergies.
Bronchitis is a condition caused by an infection of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs. The viruses that cause a cold can also cause bronchitis. Bronchitis usually develops after a person has a cold. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection.
The most common symptom of bronchitis is a cough with clear, yellow, or green mucus. The cough can last up to three weeks. Other symptoms of bronchitis include chest tightness, wheezing, and a low-grade fever.
Bronchitis can usually be treated with fluids and rest. If it is caused by a bacterial infection, you will need antibiotics. See your doctor if you are coughing or wheezing for more than two weeks.
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It can range from mild to severe. Pneumonia can cause chest pain, a cough with phlegm, shortness of breath with regular activities, high fever, and shaking chills. You can get pneumonia after having a cold or the flu. See your doctor if your symptoms do not improve or if you suddenly feel worse. He or she may prescribe antibiotics if you have bacterial pneumonia or antiviral medicine if it is caused by a virus. If you have a severe case of pneumonia, you may need to be treated in the hospital.