Symptoms of Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)
The Common Cold
The symptoms of a common cold usually resolve on their own in 1 to 2 weeks.
- Nasal congestion
- A runny nose
- Sore throat
- Malaise (general feeling of illness)
- No or minimal fever
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The symptoms of influenza are similar to those of a cold, except you will have a fever as well.
- Malaise (usually severe fatigue)
- Decreased appetite
- Dry cough
- A runny nose or nasal congestion
- 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 acute bronchitis or pneumonia. 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 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.
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 15, 2017.
Influenza. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/influenza. Updated April 2014. Accessed August 15, 2017.
Influenza in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/influenza-in-adults. Updated September 27, 2016. Accessed August 15, 2017.
Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/upper-respiratory-infection-uri-in-adults-and-adolescents-18. Updated April 10, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 11/11/2020