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Colds (cont.)

What Are Common Cold Symptoms and Signs?

The most common complaints associated with a cold usually are mild. Cold stages are not well defined and have many names depending on which author you read. For example, stages of a cold can be the incubation period, the early symptomatic period (sore throat or scratchy throat), then quickly followed by several other symptoms listed below, followed by symptom reduction and recovery with symptoms stopping. Not all clinicians agree about cold stages and consider a cold a minor disease that runs its course quickly without formal "stages." The following symptoms usually occur with a cold:

  • Sore throat or throat irritation
  • Runny nose (increased mucus production) or postnasal drip
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal and sinus blockage (thick mucus and debris) or congestion with or without sinus pressure
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Mild fever
  • Watery eyes or redness and/or itchiness of eyes
  • Some individuals may have mildly swollen lymph nodes near the neck and ears

What Specialists Treat a Cold?

Most common colds require no medical treatment, however, primary-care physicians, pediatricians, urgent-care or emergency-medicine doctors often see patients with cold symptoms. Occasionally, allergists and, for pregnant women, obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYN) doctors may be consulted.

What Is the Incubation Period for a Cold?

The incubation period varies for a cold (time from exposure to virus to development of symptoms) and depends on the viral genus and strain but most range from about one to three days; for example, rhinovirus infections can have a very short incubation period of eight to 10 hours.

How Long Is a Cold Contagious?

When symptoms first develop, a person is very contagious, but after about six to seven days of symptoms that gradually decrease, most individuals are no longer contagious. Some colds last about two weeks, and some colds are contagious during the latter part of the incubation period before symptoms develop.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/31/2016

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Rhinoviruses »

The common cold is an acute respiratory tract infection (ARTI) characterized by mild coryzal symptoms, rhinorrhea, nasal obstruction, and sneezing.

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