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Signs That Say It’s More Than Just A Common Cold

The common cold is just a common condition; It is mainly a viral infection caused by around 200 different types of viruses. The common cold is harmless and usually affects people during the cold seasons. The symptoms of common cold mainly go within a week, but if they persist for long, it may be an indication of a serious condition. [1]

In this article, we will discuss signs which are not normal in common cold and usually indicates more serious medical conditions. Also, we will discuss the difference between common cold and flu as they are often mistaken as one condition. Take a look.

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Difference Between Cold And Flu

Signs Of Cold Signs Of Flu
It is an upper respiratory tract infection that can be caused by around 200 different types of viruses.[2] It is usually caused by the influenza virus.
Cold symptoms last for 7-10 days. Flu symptoms last for around two weeks.
It is common during the winter season. It can occur at any time of the year.
Cold symptoms include runny nose, cough with phlegm, mild fever, sneezing, sore throat and headache. Flu symptoms are mostly the same as cold symptoms. However, in the flu, people experience dry cough instead of phlegm cough, high fever, shaking chills, severe body ache, fatigue, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.
It comes slowly and is harmless. It comes quickly and may cause severe complications such as pneumonia.
There's no vaccine to prevent the common cold as it is caused by more than 200 different viruses. The vaccine for flu is available. It is recommended to take flu vaccine every year due to the mutation of influenza viruses or their developed resistance to antibiotics.

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Signs That Show Your Cold Is More Serious

1. Your symptoms persist for more than four days

Common cold tends to clear in three-four days. Its symptoms include a scratchy throat, congestion and runny nose etc. If these symptoms last longer, you might have a flu. [3]

2. You have recurring symptoms

Just when you thought you have recovered from the cold symptoms, you feel they are back again within a short interval. In this condition, you need to immediately consult a medical expert. Some conditions that may cause recurrent cold include seasonal allergies (hay fever) or autoimmune diseases. [4]

3. You have returned from a long trip

Your recent trip can also be a red flag for doctors to diagnose if you're down with an infection or not. Stress and lack of sleep due to frequent trips can put you at an increased risk of the common cold. Also, travelling to other countries can expose you to pathogens more prevalent in the area such as dengue (South America) or Ebola (African countries). [5]

4. You have a high fever

The common cold is usually accompanied by mild fever, but having a high fever can be a sign of some uncommon conditions. A high fever during cold can be a sign of dengue or viral fever. Therefore, look out for your signs of fever and visit a doctor immediately.

5. You have a low-grade fever

In the common cold, a mild fever may occur for a day or two but usually go away. In case you notice a low-grade fever for several days in a row, then it could be a sign that your body is trying to fight against a more serious condition. Some studies say that persistent low-grade fever without known cause could be a sign of cancer or leukaemia. [6]

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6. You have stomach issues

Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea usually don't accompany cold. But if they do, then it's signalling other conditions such as avian influenza (bird flu), typhoid, flu or gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract). [7]

7. You have a severe headache

If you get severe headaches and neck stiffness along with fever, then this could be a sign of meningitis. Headaches that cause pressure around your eyes and nose can be a sign of a sinus infection.

8. Chest pain or breathing problems

Cough is a normal cold symptom, but persistent cough with shortness of breath, wheezing and chest pain could be a sign of bronchitis or pneumonia [8]. So, if you notice these symptoms, immediately consult a medical expert.

9. Your symptoms are in one location

Another sign is when the symptoms are present in one location. For example, strep throat (sore and scratchy throat) during cold can cause difficulties in swallowing, sinus infections can cause frontal headache and nasal congestion and ear infection can result in pain in ears (one or both ears). So, if the symptoms are localised, they say about more serious conditions.

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10. You have body aches

A regular cold does not often cause body pain or ache. Flu or other viral or bacterial infections can make your muscles and body feel achy along with causing fatigue and chills. This shows that your cold can be something more serious.

Common FAQs

1. How do you know if it's more than a cold?

The common cold lasts for a week or less than 10 days and the symptoms such as mild fever, headache and cough are usually harmless. If it's more than a cold, the fever will recur along with other serious symptoms such as high fever, diarrhoea, chest pain, body ache and many more.

2. How long is a common cold supposed to last?

The common cold symptoms typically begin in 2-3 days after being infected by respiratory secretions and last for 7-10 days.

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3. What does it mean if you constantly have a cold?

Recurring cold can be a sign of pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections or other conditions typically related to the respiratory system. Consult a medical expert if you notice the persistent cold.

4. Can a cold turn into flu?

No, the common cold is caused by more than 200 different types of viruses while flu is caused by an influenza virus. Flu can cause more serious complications compared to the common cold.

5. How do you get over a cold fast?

The best way to treat cold is by drinking more water as it helps flush out the viruses from the system. Other methods include sipping warm herbal teas or including nutritional foods in your diet to boost the immune system.

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Story first published: Thursday, August 20, 2020, 13:00 [IST]