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Common Cold: Symptoms, Prevention and COVID-19 Difference

Odds are, you get a cold every now and again. No matter how many supplements or vitamins you take, sometimes you just get got. But just because they’re common doesn’t mean you get used to them. 

On the contrary, cold symptoms can be quite rough — you likely won’t want to get out of bed. 

And while we’ve all heard that there’s no cure for the common cold (it’s true), there are several things you can do to prevent catching one and to alleviate the symptoms once you’re sick. 

Cold Prevalence and Risk Details

The average adult gets two to four colds each year. That’s two to four colds too many. They are among the most common illnesses, and no one is immune.

The common cold is caused by many different viruses, including 100 types of rhinoviruses. Some adenoviruses, human metapneumoviruses,and coronaviruses (not COVID-19) also cause the common cold.

You’re most at risk of contracting a cold in the fall or spring; not the winter. You pick it up when you come in contact with an infected person or, in some instances, through particles in the air. Once exposed, you start showing symptoms within a few days.


You know that feeling — the scratch at the back of your throat that signals pending misery. In fact, most colds start with throat discomfort, and evolve into sneezing, a runny nose, and just feeling like garbage. Symptoms of the common cold include: 

  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose 
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes 
  • Fever 
  • Cough 
  • Body aches 
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Headache 

These symptoms generally last anywhere from four to 10 days, and the cough is typically the last symptom to leave.

Sometimes, however, your cold can morph into something more complicated, like bacterial infections (such as sinusitis or ear infections), or cause asthma attacks in people with asthma.

Is It COVID-19? 

COVID-19, the cause of the current global coronavirus pandemic, can have symptoms similar to the common cold or flu, making it hard to tell the difference. 

Generally speaking, flu and COVID-19 symptoms are more severe than the common cold. 

However, all of these illnesses can cause fever, aches, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, headache and fatigue.

One potential differentiator between COVID-19 and other illnesses is the loss of your sense of smell or taste. If you experience this along with other severe symptoms, look into testing options in your area.

Better yet, if you’re experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 and/or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive — or someone who has been around people who’ve tested positive — for COVID-19, get tested and contact your healthcare provider immediately.

How You Catch or Prevent a Cold

Colds are contagious. They spread through close contact with people carrying the virus. You can catch them from a hug, sharing a drink or food, chatting and laughing with someone, shaking hands or touching a surface that has been touched by someone carrying the virus.

Preventing a cold, therefore, begins by limiting your contact with people who are sick. But because we don’t always know who is carrying a cold virus or whether they’ve left their germs behind, it’s important to frequently wash your hands. Also, avoid touching your face or eating with unwashed hands.

You can also make sure you're doing your best to give your body the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to be able to fight a cold off.

If you’re sick, stay home. Avoid coughing or sneezing around other people, and make sure to cover your mouth when doing so. If you’re the one infected, it’s equally important for you to wash your hands frequently.


We’ve all heard it before: there is no cure for the common cold. In essence, feeling better involves treating the symptoms of the infection until it passes. The following tips can keep you comfortable and reduce the likelihood of your cold evolving into something worse: 

  • Stay hydrated 
  • Get plenty of rest 
  • Manage aches with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen (if you’re asthmatic, consult with a healthcare professional before taking these)
  • Manage congestion and cough with over-the-counter decongestants or antihistamines, but ensure you educate yourself of any side effects or warnings listed on the box of whichever medication you choose to care.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine to prevent dehydration.

You will catch colds. It’s a fact of life. But practicing good hygiene can lessen and help prevent some cases, and resting and taking care of yourself can minimize your discomfort when it’s too  late for prevention.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.