1Life Healthcare Inc.

11/19/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/19/2021 20:18

Our definitive guide to cold and flu

More than 90 percent of upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses. These infections create different symptoms at each stage. Most colds, flus and COVID-19 resolve in about a week, although some symptoms (like coughing) can take weeks to go away completely.

Helen (Eleni) Xenos, a One Medical doctor in Chicago, describes the typical progression of the common cold:

  • Day 1: Fatigue, headache, sore or scratchy throat.
  • Day 2: Sore throat worsens, low fever, mild nasal congestion.
  • Day 3: Congestion worsens, sinus and ear pressure become very uncomfortable. It may be difficult to sleep.
  • Day 4: Mucus may turn yellow or green (this is normal). Sore throat improves, but coughing begins.
  • Days 5-7: Energy and congestion improve.
  • 1 week+: Cough usually tapers off after a week, but can take up to 3-6 weeks to fully resolve.

If your symptoms are much worse than these, such as coughing so hard you throw up, coughing up bloody mucus, difficulty breathing, or if you have a fever over 102°F, you might have something more serious going on, like pertussis (whooping cough) or bacterial pneumonia.

If a cold drags on for more than 2 weeks, it can turn into a sinus infection that causes pain around the eyes, nose and/or sinus headaches. Chest colds (bronchitis) cause chest congestion and a hacking cough that drag on for a few weeks.

The flu comes with similar symptoms but features a prominent fever, chills, headache, and body aches that usually last several days.

COVID-19 can feel very similar to other colds and can sometimes have additional symptoms like loss of taste or smell which can help distinguish this virus. It's important for folks to get tested and stay home with cold symptoms to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, keep everyone safe, and help end the pandemic. For more on COVID-19, see here.