Colds: Signs and symptoms
Colds can be managed effectively, so it helps to know how to identify this common disease.
Symptoms of colds
Nasal symptoms are the most bothersome symptoms of a cold, namely:1,2
- Congestion – a blocked nose.
- Rhinorrhoea – a runny nose.
- Sinus pressure and pain – headaches.
- Sneezing – blowing your nose often.
More than 90% of the population suffers from nasal symptoms due to the common cold each year.1
Nasal symptoms impact quality of life due to:
- Discomfort from obstructed breathing due to swelling and mucus2
- Inconvenience from the frequent need to blow the nose2
- Reduced quality and quantity of sleep3,4
- Daytime fatigue and poor concentration4
- Lost time from work or school5
- Colds and infections of the upper respiratory system are the most common illnesses among infants because of the difficulty they have in sneezing to free the nose and the rhinopharynx from mucus and other secretions
- Increased nasal secretions usually cause congestion, a runny nose, coughing and vomiting, and if the problem is not dealt with immediately, complications may arise
- Dyspnoea, or shortness of breath, increases during feeding, so that the baby fails to absorb sufficient fluids or take in sufficient food, becomes irritable and upset, and experiences poor quality sleep, which affects normal development
- Secondary middle ear infections are frequent, and in more serious and persistent cases, inflammation of the sinuses can occur
- Symptoms of congestion are described as:8
- Irregular, strained or heavy breathing.
- Clogged, closed, reddened, chapped or dirty nasal passages.
- There are typically three levels of severity described by mothers:8
- A mild runny nose that isn’t completely blocked
- A blocked nose that doesn’t run but is usually easily cleared
- A severely blocked nose with thick, green mucus
Questions to ask your patient
Questions to ask your patient:10
- What symptoms have you been experiencing?
- Have your symptoms been continuous?
- How severe are the symptoms?
- Did your symptoms improve and then worsen?
- What, if anything, seems to improve the symptoms?
- What, if anything, worsens symptoms?
When to refer your patient for further care
A patient might need to be referred for further care under the following circumstances:11
- symptoms that don’t improve after 10 days or appear to be worsening
- a fever of 100.4°F (37°C) or higher
- cough that produces mucus
- severely swollen lymph nodes, ear pain, or vomiting
- severe sinus pain
- chest pains
- abdominal pain
- a stiff neck or extreme headache
- trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- severe dizziness or new unsteadiness
- a fever of 100.4°F (37°C) (for children older than three months old)
- a fever that lasts more than three days
- symptoms that last more than 10 days or appear to be worsening
- a blue or gray tint to their skin, especially around the lips, nose, and fingernails
- ear pain
- abdominal pain or vomiting
- swollen lymph nodes
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- a stiff neck or severe headache
- no thirst, poor fluid intake, and decreased urination
- trouble swallowing or excessive drooling
- a persistent cough
- more crying bouts than normal
- unusual levels of fatigue or irritability
Patient care resources
Access a leaflet for your patients, which can help them understand the causes of colds and how best to treat them.