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Symptoms of Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

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The Common Cold

The symptoms of a common cold usually resolve on their own in 1-2 weeks.

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Malaise (not feeling well)
  • No or minimal fever

Sore Throat due to Inflammation


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Influenza

The symptoms of influenza are similar to those of a cold, except you will have a fever as well.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Malaise (usually severe fatigue)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dry cough
  • A runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches (usually severe)
  • Sore throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Most people are familiar with these symptoms; however there are a few specific things to look out for:

Runny Nose

The discharge from your nose is usually clear and watery to begin with, later becoming thicker and perhaps yellow or green. Yellow or green discharge combined with a fever, sore face or teeth, and persistent symptoms may signal the onset of a sinus infection. Blood in the mucus or phlegm along with a headache is even more likely to be due to a sinus infection.

Dry Cough

A dry cough is much less problematic than a wet cough. If you start producing colored sputum, be it yellow, green, or bloody, it could be a sign of acute bronchitis or pneumonia. This is even more important if you are a smoker.

Sore Throat

If your (or your child's) throat hurts, take a look with a flashlight. Also feel the upper neck below the angle of the jaw and below the ears. If the glands are swollen or the throat is bright red or covered with yellow or white spots (discharge or exudates), it may be strep throat. Strep throat may need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent complications, such as a middle ear infection or rheumatic fever.

If you notice changes like these in your cold or influenza symptoms, call your doctor.

References

Common cold. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/common-cold. Updated April 2014. Accessed August 11, 2015.

Influenza. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/influenza. Updated April 2014. Accessed August 11, 2015.

Influenza in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 17, 2015. Accessed August 11, 2015.

Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 8, 2015. Accessed August 11, 2015.



Last reviewed August 2015 by David Horn, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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