The Common Cold: Signs, Symptoms, & Stages

By Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Table of Contents


The common cold is a miserable experience. The symptoms can make it hard to concentrate or sleep. You might feel fatigued and have a headache. The most common initial symptom of a common cold is a sore throat.

The common cold is a virus that infects the upper respiratory system. It is one of the most common illnesses in humans, and it is estimated that adults have an average of two to three colds per year.

Children may have even more. The common cold is usually mild, but it can occasionally lead to more serious problems, such as pneumonia. The incidence of the common cold is increasing throughout the world.

This is partially due to the fact that more people are traveling and spreading the virus, and partially because the virus is becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

What Exactly is a Common Cold?

The common cold is caused by a virus and has many symptoms. The most common symptoms are a runny nose and a sore throat. A mild fever may also be present. Colds are most commonly seen in the winter, but they can occur at any time of the year.

Symptoms of a cold and the flu can be similar, making it difficult to tell the two apart. However, there are some key differences. Flu symptoms tend to be more severe and can include a high fever, body aches, and fatigue. Cold symptoms, on the other hand, are usually milder and do not include a fever.

As mentioned, a cold is caused by a virus and has many symptoms. A cold can last anywhere from a few days to a week, but the symptoms are usually the worst for the first three days.

The common cold is basically an infection of the upper airway tract; the nose, mouth, larynx, throat, sinuses, ears, and eyes.

It can spread into the lungs, causing pneumonia if not treated properly. The most common cold viruses are rhinovirus and coronavirus, which are fairly easy to spread.

Other viruses are as follows:

  • Seasonal coronavirus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus
  • Enteroviruses
  • Rhinovirus
  • Adenovirus

Common Cold Symptoms

The common cold is one of the most annoying, but also the most common illnesses. People can get 2–4 cold cycles per year, especially around winter. The cold symptoms are usually mild and not debilitating.

The common cold symptoms are as follows:

  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • headaches
  • body aches
  • fatigue
  • ill feeling
  • Low-grade fever
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge: yellow or green

The virus is usually transmitted via a person’s nose, mouth, or throat droplets. The virus can also be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces and objects.

Once infected, the patient is most contagious in the first 24 hours and can transfer the virus to many others.

During the viral flu, the patient will experience high fever, chills, and rigors in addition to cold symptoms. The common cold doesn’t require special treatment or a visit to the doctor.

However, if you have viral flu, you may need to see a doctor or take antivirals because the symptoms are more severe and unpleasant than a common cold.

The Phases of the Common Cold

The common cold has mainly an early phase (incubation period) for 1-2 days. active stage with symptoms for 5-7 days and a late stage of recovery for 8–10 days.

Early Phase

This phase starts 1-2 days after exposure to rhinovirus, and a common cold begins. Symptoms include a low-grade fever, congestion, and sore throat.

Sore throat occurs as the early symptom, which is 10 hours following the initial symptoms, and the rest of the other symptoms may appear afterward; headache, sneezing, runny nose, tiredness (feeling like you need to take a nap), and cough.

Active, or Peak

The second phase of the common cold usually lasts between 5 and 7 days. Symptoms during this time include a persistent cough and sneezing, as well as fatigue and body aches.

A mild fever can occur as your body is now fighting the viruses.

Late Stage

The third stage of the common cold usually lasts between 8 and 10 days. Cough, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, headache, and ear pain are all possible symptoms during this time.

The post-tussive syndrome is a cough following a viral infection, which may last up to 1–2 weeks, though initial cold symptoms have subsided.

If you are in the symptomatic stage, you are infectious and can transmit the virus to others. Keep hydrated and get plenty of rest during the active stage of the common cold.

Risk Factors for the Common Cold

The common cold is an unpleasant illness that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes it, but they do know that it’s contagious. You can get it from someone who has a cold or the flu.


It’s most common in children aged between the ages of 4 and 6 years old. They get common colds often from their kids’ kindergarten or nursery. Older adults are more likely to have a severe case of the common cold than younger adults or children.

Cold Season

Taking good care of yourself during the spring and winter months is an excellent idea to avoid getting a common cold.

Due to environmental changes, as people are sharing their environments more often, it may lead to faster transmission of diseases.


Smoking is a well-known risk factor for the common cold.

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose and throat. When the viruses enter the upper airway, there is no effective clearing of the mucus. This might lead to the multiplication of viruses inside the lung.

Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for contracting the common cold and other respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.

A Weak Immune System

A weak immune system can increase your risk of developing a common cold. This may be due to lack of sleep, poor diet, or chronic stress.

Public Places

Cold is highly contagious and can be transmitted through droplets in the air. People who are at high risk of getting the virus are those who spend a lot of time in public places like schools, offices, airports, or grocery stores.

Complications of the Common Cold

There are a lot of different things that can cause your common cold to get worse, but the most common ones are:

The common cold is a contagious respiratory infection that can strike anyone, but it’s most common among young children and the elderly.

The virus that causes the common cold is spread through droplets found in coughs and sneezes; it then spreads to the rest of your body by touching surfaces contaminated with respiratory secretions (like those from other people with colds).

  • Sinusitis
  • Strep throat
  • Asthma: Post viral wheezing attack
  • Rash
  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Ear infections

Treatment of the Common Cold

The common cold is a common illness that affects millions of people every year. It’s caused by a virus and is characterized by a sore throat and mucus production.

A person can get this illness at any time of year, but it’s most common in the winter because that’s when people tend to spend more time indoors.

  • The first step in treating the common cold is to make sure that you’re drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated.
  • To treat a sore throat, try gargling with warm salt water or eating raw honey.
  • Drink warm water or hot milk frequently to prevent dehydration.

Try taking some over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or ibuprofen for joint aches.

  • Vitamin C: Take 500mg of vitamin C every 12 hours until symptoms subside.
  • Steam baths or steam inhalations will help to ease nasal congestion.
  • If you have trouble breathing, find an open airway that allows for easy breathing, like standing up straight or leaning forward slightly.
  • If your symptoms are severe (like if you have a fever), then you should see a doctor immediately.

How to Prevent the Common Cold’s Spread?

It is important to understand the common cold and its prevention methods. The best way to prevent a cold is by avoiding close contact with people who are infected and avoiding sharing food or utensils with each other.

There are also some other ways of preventing a cold, such as,

  • Washing hands often with soap and water or using a sanitizer.
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Drink plenty of fluids (water is best), especially if you get dehydrated easily.
  • Vitamin C helps your body fight off infection by strengthening the immune system. This can be found in fruits like citrus and strawberries, but if that doesn’t appeal to you, just make sure to eat more broccoli or other foods rich in vitamin C!
  • Regular Exercise: At least 30 minutes per day.

Five Tips to Keep Your Immune System Strong!

  • Hand Hygiene
  • Wash or sanitize your hands after touching or being in public places.
  • Sneeze into your bent elbow or into a tissue.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, and mouth frequently.
  • Practice 6 steps in proper hand cleaning.
  • Wear a mask
  • Keep 3 feet away from an ill person.

When to Visit the Medical Practitioner

The common cold is a viral infection that is usually caused by a virus called rhinovirus. The symptoms of the common cold are usually similar to those of influenza, such as fever, cough, sore throat, headache, and fatigue.

If you have not been able to identify the cause of your illness or if you have any other symptoms that are worrying you, then it is best to see your doctor.

If you are having these symptoms, visit your doctor.

“high fever” >101 F

  • continuous vomiting ( dehydration)
  • neck stiffness, blurring of vision ( meningitis)
  • localized chest pain increases with cough ( pneumonia)
  • earache (otitis media)

TeleHealthDoc articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Dr. Pallavi Sharma is one of Melbourne’s best, well respected cosmetic doctors and aims to provide longstanding anti-aging benefits for her clients. With over 11 years experience in Performing cosmetic procedures, Dr. Sharma has lectured medical professionals regarding cosmetic treatments and is heavily involved in providing up to date cosmetic treatments to her clients and friends.
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