Symptoms of a cold

The first symptom of a cold is usually a sore throat. This is generally followed by sneezing or a blocked, sore or runny nose. Usually, 1 in 3 people with a cold will get a cough and feel unwell.

Colds are caused by viruses. Antibiotics cannot treat viruses. Instead, drink plenty of liquids to replace those lost from sweating and runny noses. Get lots of rest and eat healthily. Do not ask your GP for antibiotics for a cold.

You will usually feel worse during the first 2 to 3 days before gradually starting to improve. Your symptoms will usually last about a week.

Cold and flu symptoms are similar but flu tends to be more severe.


  • Appears gradually
  • Affects mainly your nose and throat
  • Makes you feel unwell but you’re OK to carry on as normal – for example, go to work


  • Appears quickly within a few hours
  • Affects more than just your nose and throat
  • Makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal

Cold symptoms can include:

  • blocked or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • coughs
  • sneezing
  • a raised temperature
  • pressure in your ears and face
  • loss of taste and smell

The symptoms are the same in adults and children. Sometimes, symptoms last longer in children.

Causes of colds

 Are caused by viruses. They can easily spread to other people. You’re infectious until all your symptoms have gone. This usually takes about a week.

Spread by germs from coughs and sneezes which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

To reduce the risk of spreading a cold you should:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • cough into your elbow to stop germs getting on to your hands and spreading to other people
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible


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Showing 1–12 of 14 results