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Symptoms of Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

The Common ColdInfluenzaRunny NoseDry CoughSore Throat

The symptoms of a common cold usually resolve on their own within one to two 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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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:

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.

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 bronchitis or pneumonia; contact your doctor. This is even more important if you are a smoker.

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 goo (discharge or exudates), it may be strep throat. Strep throat should be treated with penicillin (to prevent rheumatic fever ). Contact your doctor.

References

American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org. Accessed February 1, 2006.
American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.aap.org. Accessed February 1, 2006.
Beers MH, Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 17th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons; 1999.
Fauci AS, Braunwald E, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2000.
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