Common Cold Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

You notice that your throat feels irritated and scratchy. The next thing you know, you can’t swallow your food without feeling a burning sensation in your throat, and it hurts! A few hours later, you find yourself running to the bathroom to grab some tissues for your runny nose. These all sound like cold symptoms. Find out what a cold is, its causes, symptom treatment like DayQuil and NyQuil, and how to prevent spreading it to the ones you love.

What is a Cold?

Sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. These are the hallmark symptoms of the common cold. Millions of people in the United States get the common cold each year.1 Adults get an average of two to three colds each year, while kids get even more.1

Although the common cold tends to hit in the winter and spring, it’s possible to contract a cold any time of year.

What Causes a Cold?

Although many different viruses can cause a cold, rhinoviruses are the most cause of the common cold.1

A cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose, usually when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes, or talks (the virus can spread through droplets in the air).1

You can also catch a cold by touching contaminated objects and surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.1

Cold Symptoms and How Long They Last

The symptoms of the common cold typically begin two to three days after being infected, and the symptoms can last anywhere from two to 10 days.1

Usually a sore throat is the first symptom to show up, followed by a runny nose.

If you have the following symptoms, then you may have the common cold3:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Post-nasal drip (mucus going down your throat)
  • Watery eyes
  • Fever

What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?

It can be hard to tell the difference between the common cold and flu. These two illnesses have similar symptoms and are both respiratory viral infections. However, they are caused by very different viruses.2

A diagnosed cold caused specifically by a cold virus cannot “morph” into the flu. What’s more, flu symptoms tend to be worse than cold symptoms, and they come on suddenly (cold symptoms tend to develop gradually). With the flu, you can expect to be faced with a fever, chills, and aching muscles and joints. Colds, on the other hand, are usually associated with a sore throat and runny nose.

Colds are much more common than the flu.

Common Cold Symptoms Treatment

Your doctor may have told you that there’s no cure for the common cold. And your doctor is correct. To date, there are no antiviral medications that can fight the viruses that cause the common cold. Also, you cannot use antibiotics as common cold treatment as these are only used to treat infections caused by bacteria—and as we know, the common cold comes from a virus.

Though you can’t cure your cold, that doesn’t mean you need to suffer with each and every symptom until your body fights off the virus. You can try home remedies to treat your symptoms. You can also go to your local pharmacy or grocery store and look for over-the-counter medications that relieve cold symptoms.

Home Remedies for Your Cold Symptoms

  • Drink lots of fluids: Keeping your body hydrated by drinking lots of fluids (especially water) is a great way to relieve a stuffy nose from a cold. Drinking fluids can dilute your mucus and make it easier for you to drain the mucus from your stuffy nose and sinuses.4
  • Sleep it off: Sleep is essential for your body to rest and heal. Research shows that when you’re sleeping, your body makes proteins called cytokines, which are important for fighting infection and inflammation.5 Do your best to adjust your sleep schedule to get the extra rest that will help your body fight your cold virus. When you go to bed, try propping your head up with pillows to help gravity work better for you.6 Sleeping at a sloped angle allows the fluid in your sinuses to keep flowing to avoid congestion and other cold symptoms.

Over-the-Counter Cold Symptom Treatment

Non-prescription medicine can help ease your cold symptoms. Although Vicks products cannot cure the common cold, they can help you feel better. Many over-the-counter cold medicines treat multiple symptoms. Make sure to identify what other symptoms you may be experiencing with your cold, so you can get the relief you need.

DayQuil and NyQuil for Multi-Symptom Relief

NyQuil and DayQuil SEVERE are both good options if you have a cold since they contain a pain reliever/fever reducer, a nasal decongestant, and cough suppressant. NyQuil SEVERE also contains an antihistamine to relieve sneezing and runny nose symptoms. DayQuil SEVERE contains an expectorant to help loosen phlegm (mucus) to make coughs more productive.

FluTherapy for Multi-Symptom Relief

If you prefer your cold symptom relief in a medicated hot drink, look to Vicks FluTherapy SEVERE. For relief of cold symptoms like nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, and more, dissolve a packet of FluTherapy into a glass of 8 oz. hot water. Stir and sip while hot. Make sure to drink the entire medicated drink within 10-15 minutes.

Vicks VapoRub for Cough

When your cold brings on cough symptoms, it’s hard to feel better. The medicated vapors in Vicks VapoRub quickly relieve cough symptoms. First, rub it on your chest or throat. Then breathe in the medicated vapors with the familiar scents of eucalyptus, menthol, and camphor to help relieve your cough symptom from a cold.

Sinex SEVERE for Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion can make it hard to focus on anything besides your breathing when you have a cold. Over-the-counter nasal sprays like Sinex SEVERE Ultra Fine Mist can help to relieve nasal congestion from a cold. It is a fast-acting nasal spray decongestant that relieves sinus pressure and shrinks swollen nasal membranes so you can breathe more freely.

How to Prevent Getting or Spreading a Cold Virus

Cold and flu prevention methods are similar because both illnesses result when you are exposed to a virus.7

You can protect yourself from getting the common cold by following these CDC guidelines to help you reduce your risk of getting a cold1:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Keep your distance from people who are sick.

To protect others around you from getting the common cold, you should follow these CDC tips for cold prevention1:

  • Stay at home while you are sick and keep children home.
  • Don’t make close contact with other people – avoid hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.
  • Before you cough or sneeze, make sure that you are a safe distance away from people.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away, or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve while completely covering your mouth and nose.
  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, including toys and doorknobs.
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