You Might Have The Common Cold If You Have These Symptoms

The common cold can be an annoying fact of winter life, but considering the number of viruses that cause the common cold (more than 200, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine), we might consider feeling just a bit grateful we don't find ourselves saddled with this upper respiratory infection more often.

To catch a cold, all you have to do  is to come into contact with someone else who is infected with one of the cold viruses. If the virus gets into your nose or throat, it begins to irritate the mucous membranes that line these areas. 

One thing we can say in the common cold's favor, however, is that it's fairly predictable, at least in that it tends to present as a trajectory of symptoms — one after the other. The symptoms described below are associated with the common cold, so if you have any, and especially if you have a few, then you're probably feeling under the weather right now.

Sore throat is often one of the first signs of the common cold

A sore throat is often your first sign of the common cold, according to licensed physician Leann Poston. That's because the throat is lined with a mucous membrane that helps fight pathogens as they attempt to enter the body. When this lining detects a pathogen such as a common cold virus, it releases compounds that promote inflammation. The inflammation helps the body to temporarily fight its attacker. In addition, the lymph nodes located near the throat swell in response to the presence of pathogens, and that can cause discomfort upon swallowing. 

Sore throats are seen in many viruses in addition to the common cold. Sore throats are also seen in some bacterial infections such as strep throat, which can be serious if left untreated. So while having a sore throat could mean you have the common cold, Dr. Poston recommends keeping an eye on other symptoms for clues. 

With the common cold comes malaise

Malaise is a broad medical term that refers to feeling generally unwelland it can include fatigue or sleeplessness, feelings of irritability, feelings of depression, among others. The common cold almost always involves at least some degree of malaise, which can begin to appear even before the throat first feels sore. Malaise associated with the common cold can continue for the duration of the cold and can outlast all other cold symptoms by days or even weeks. 

According to a 2013 study, malaise may be the result of the central nervous system's reaction to the release of cytokines by the immune system. According to licensed physician Leann Poston, malaise can be helpful in fighting a cold to the extent it nudges us to get some rest.

Of course, many illnesses and conditions can cause this feeling of discomfort. If you are experiencing malaise, you might have the common cold, but you could have something else. Therefore, your other symptoms will become important in arriving at a diagnosis.

If you're feeling less than alert, you could have the common cold

Although decreased alertness can be a sign of the common cold, an infected person may not notice this symptom unless they engage in an activity that demands alertness, like driving. For example, studies have shown that people with colds are more likely to hit the curb while driving their cars than those without colds. Driving with a cold has also been found to be associated with driving too close to other cars and slower reaction times when collision is imminent.

That being said, decreased alertness can be associated with many illnesses and conditions, some much more serious than the common cold. For example, decreased alertness may be seen in thyroid conditions, kidney failure, liver failure, diabetes, stroke, and dementia. It has also been associated with COVID-19, which may attack the nervous system in addition to the respiratory tract. If you're experiencing decreased alertness or are noticing your reaction times are slower than usual, it's probably worth a call to your doctor to discuss your symptoms. 

Coughing can be a symptom of the common cold

Coughing is a reflex designed to clear the airway of threats such as pathogens and foreign objects. Not all common colds involve coughing, but when coughing is associated with the common cold, it tends to start out as dry for the first few days before becoming productive. In other words, the cough then produces mucous. Coughing from a cold may last for a few weeks after all other cold symptoms have disappeared without raising concerns. However, if, at any time, a productive cough is accompanied by fever, is blood-tinged, lasts more than three weeks, or involves shortness of breath, it's worth a call to your physician, according to board-certified naturopath and holistic health coach Olivia Audrey.

Coughing can also be a sign of many other illnesses and conditions, including COVID-19 and influenza. Coughing associated with COVID-19 and the flu tends to be dry and not productive. That being said, dry coughing can also be brought on by dry air, cold air, allergens, and environmental irritants. Since coughing can accompany many conditions and illnesses, it should be considered along with other symptoms before arriving at a diagnosis.

Watery eyes? You might have a cold

If you think back to the last time you caught a cold, you may recall just how watery your eyes were. It's an annoying yet common symptom. But what do the eyes have to do with an upper respiratory infection? The eyes are connected to the nose through the nasolacrimal duct. The nasolacrimal duct, which is also known as the "tear duct," is located close to the nose and can become inflamed as a result of nasal congestion. And as a result of that inflammation, tears don't drain properly from the eyes. Thus: watery eyes.

Unfortunately, watery eyes aren't the only ocular symptom associated with the common cold. The sneezing and coughing that can accompany a cold can leave eyes dry and tired. Not only can that feel uncomfortable, but it can also leave the eyes vulnerable to localized infections such as conjunctivitis (aka pinkeye). And even without dry eyes, you can still get this condition; viruses that cause the common cold can also cause pinkeye, according to WebMD.

Fatigue is a common cold symptom

Medically speaking, fatigue refers to a feeling of extreme tiredness, which might be experienced as a debilitating lack of energy or a loss of motivation to partake in everyday activities (even ones you enjoy). Fatigue is very often a symptom of the common cold, according to licensed physician Leann Poston, who told Health Digest the reason a cold can make you feel fatigued is due to your body needing to expend more energy than usual to fight its perceived attacker (the common cold virus). Like malaise, fatigue can be helpful for battling a cold in that it can encourage you to get the rest your body needs. 

By the same token, fatigue is associated with a great many illnesses and conditions. If you're experiencing fatigue but you don't have any other cold symptoms, it might be worth checking in with your doctor to rule out other, more serious causes.

If you don't have nasal congestion, it's doubtful you actually have the common cold

The common cold rarely presents without nasal congestion. That's because the common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, of which the nose plays a starring role. Nasal congestion occurs as a result of swelling of blood vessels in the nasal cavity, licensed physician Leann Poston told Health Digest. It tends to present as a feeling of fullness in the nose and sinuses. 

But just because nasal congestion is a fundamental common cold symptom, that's not to say that if you have nasal congestion, it must be the common cold. In fact, nasal congestion is also associated with many other illnesses and conditions, including COVID-19 and the flu. In fact, congestion may be the only symptom of coronavirus in the mildest cases. However, when associated with the common cold, nasal congestion tends to present after throat soreness and before other respiratory symptoms such as coughing. Influenza typically presents with the sudden onset of all associated symptoms and almost never presents solely with nasal congestion.

A runny nose is a common marker of the common cold

A runny nose is caused by an increase in mucous production, according to licensed physician Leann Poston. That increased mucous production is the body's innate response to the presence of pathogens in the nose and upper respiratory system, and it represents an attempt on the part of the body to literally flood those pathogens out. A runny nose may or may not be accompanied by another fun symptom: sneezing

The mechanism of sneezing is related to inflammatory responses in the nose and throat, which, in turn, stimulate the "trigeminal" nerve to cause the sneeze response, according to a report published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases. Like a sore throat, sneezing is a "prominent early symptom" of the common cold. Sneezing can occur with or without nasal congestion or runny nose. But when all three occur together — without a fever and after a sore throat and fatigue set in — a cold diagnosis becomes increasingly likely. In the case of a high fever, other diagnoses should be considered, Dr. Poston told Health Digest.

It's possible your headache is a common cold symptom

The common cold may present with a mild headache. However, headaches associated with the common cold are generally caused by sinus congestion and tend to be concentrated near the sinuses. In other words, you might feel pain in your cheeks or between, above, or otherwise near your eyes. Studies also suggest that headaches associated with the common cold may be the result of the immune system's release of cytokines in response to viral infection. However, the common cold is just one of many viral infections, and headaches can be caused by many illnesses and conditions.

Headache is one of the most common presenting symptoms of COVID-19, second only to anosmia (the loss of sense of smell), according to Dr. Megan Donnelly, a neurologist and board-certified headache specialist, told Novant Health. However, the headache associated with COVID-19 can feel significantly different from the headache associated with the common cold. With COVID-19, the headache tends to present as a "whole-head, severe-pressure pain," according to Donnelly, rather than one focused near the sinuses.

Body aches can be a symptom of the common cold

Body aches are a common symptom of the common cold. In fact, around 50 percent of common cold sufferers report body aches, which like malaise and headache, may be related to the immune system's release of cytokines to fight infection. Some experts, including board-certified naturopath and holistic health coach Olivia Audrey and Richard Deem, a senior researcher, and specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, have suggested that in the context of the common cold, those aches can be seen as evidence of the immune system doing what it is meant to do (via Bone & Joint). In addition, if you listen to your body, you'll hear those aches insisting that you rest, Audrey told Health Digest. 

On the other hand, cytokines are released not only in response to the common cold virus, but also in response to many other pathogens, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Therefore, while body aches may certainly be a sign of the common cold, they cannot alone be used to diagnose the common cold to the exclusion of other illnesses and conditions.

Loss of appetite is often a symptom of the common cold

You've probably heard the old saying, "Feed a cold, starve a fever." But just because grandmas have been repeating it for hundreds of years now, that doesn't mean it makes any sense whatsoever. In fact, a common symptom of the common cold is loss of appetite, and that may be "protective," according to Dr. Ripal Shah, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. As Dr. Shah told Health Digest, humans may have evolved to experience a loss of appetite when fighting a viral infection because it may help keep your immune system focused on fighting infection rather than dealing with foreign material in your digestive system. 

That being said, complete loss of appetite is relatively uncommon with the common cold and may be indicative of a more potent virus such as the flu. In addition, there are instances in which the common cold will cause an increase in appetite, such as when your body is using more energy to fight the cold than you've been feeding it.

If foods taste off to you, you might just have the common cold

One of the reasons the common cold can cause loss of appetite is that it has a way of making food taste bland to us. This happens, according to the health professionals at Charlotte Ear Nose & Throat Associates, due to nasal congestion. This congestion interferes with our ability to smell, which in turn, interferes with our sense of taste.

This may have you worried, considering studies have indicates that a loss of sense of taste and smell can be a predictor of whether or not someone has COVID-19 (via Harvard Medical School). It is true that up to 80 percent of people who test positive for COVID-19 report smell or taste loss, but that doesn't mean you should automatically assume you have the infectious disease.

As Healthline explained, "With COVID-19, a loss of taste or smell can come on suddenly and occur early, sometimes before other COVID-19 symptoms develop. Unlike other upper respiratory infections, a loss of smell or taste isn't always associated with a runny or stuffy nose."

Your tummy troubles could mean that you have a cold

The common cold is not typically associated with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. In fact, such symptoms are more likely to be a sign of the flu, according to the health professionals at Samaritan Health Services. However, it's not unheard of for the common cold to cause digestive problems, Dr. Ripal Shah, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, told Health Digest.

The common cold may cause enough fluid shift and fluid loss to cause dehydration, Dr. Shah explained. That can lead to a slowdown of the digestive system, which can, in turn, lead to digestive discomfort such as bloating, nausea, and in some cases, vomiting. In addition, some people experience diarrhea with the common cold because their body is attempting to rid itself of pathogens. That being said, consistent and severe digestive issues suggest some process other than the common cold may be at work (for example, adenovirus) and could warrant a physician consult. 

Feeling feverish could mean you might have the common cold

According to a seminal 2005 research paper published in the scientific journal, Lancet Infectious Diseases, the common cold is rarely accompanied by a fever in adult. A fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is defined as a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, a high fever is a sign that what you have is not just the common cold. So why is it that many people with colds report feeling "feverish" or having "the chills" (which is often associated with fever)?

The reason, according to the paper's author, Dr. Ron Eccles, now-Professor Emeritus of Cardiff University's School of Biosciences, chills are most likely caused by cytokines acting on the brain's temperature regulating center. Feeling feverish is likely due to a very slight increase in body temperature known as a low-grade feverA low-grade fever has no "official" definition, but doctors such as Alka Gupta, an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, regard it as being somewhere above a person's normal temperature (which may or may not be 98.6 degrees) and below 100.4 degrees (via Health).