Posted by Divya Sathyanarayanan

Common cold and flu often have the same symptoms and it is important to spot the difference.
Stuffy nose, throat pain, and headache—it can be difficult for you to identify whether you have cold or flu, as these symptoms overlap for both conditions. With the ongoing flu season in mind, we caught up with Thomas Horowitz, CHA HPMC MD, on understanding the common cold—conditions, symptoms, and treatment.

What is a cold?
A cold is an upper respiratory infection with runny nose, congestion, fever and maybe a sore throat. The cough comes from the sinus drip causing the air-way clearing cough mechanism. A cold only needs the usual over-the-counter medications to minimize the symptoms. People can get immunizations for the flu, which is important to do. However, we have no immunization for colds.

How many days does a cold last, on average for a healthy adult?
The cold will last for 7 to 10 days. Usually the first couple are with fever and a nagging cough lasting a few days more. You should see a doctor if a fever persists or gets very high, if you have shortness of breath, cough with sputum production, or sore muscles. Infants and the elderly may have infections that last longer. If the condition does not improve within a week, you should get an exam.

What sort of symptoms should you expect when you have a cold?
Symptoms can include a scratchy throat, fever, fatigue and a nagging cough. It is followed by congestion, fatigue and an increase in coughing. Only the cough should be there at the tail end, after a week or so.

At what point should you see a doctor?
Those with an impaired immune system can get a secondary infection, so they should see their doctor if there is not the usual course of a cold.
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