Did you know that the common cold results in billions of dollars worth of lost work time in the United States alone each year? Colds are not life-threatening, but they can certainly make us feel horrible and result in trips to the doctor and days lying in bed.

One of the most puzzling things about the common cold is that it shares symptoms with a number of other ailments. It is sometimes mistaken for the flu, strep throat, a sinus infection, or bronchitis, among other things. So how do you know when it’s just a cold? Here is a list of symptoms:

* A hacking cough that produces phlegm
* Sneezing
* Stuffy or runny nose, with clear or white drainage
* Sore throat
* Possible mild chest discomfort
* Mild fatigue

Cold symptoms usually come on gradually, often taking a few days to reach their peak. People with colds rarely run a fever, experience chills, or have a headache. Body aches may occur in some cases, but they are usually very mild compared to those experienced with the flu.

Colds usually last between 1 and 2 weeks. If you’re lucky, yours could subside sooner. If a cold persists for more than 14 days, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. Even if your sickness started out as a cold, you could have developed a secondary infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

In some cases, you’ll need to see a doctor sooner to check for more serious infections. If you have a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more, discover blisters in your throat, or have yellow or green phlegm or nasal discharge, a visit with your physician is in order. These are all signs of more serious problems.

Treating a Cold

There is no cure for the common cold on the market at this time. But there are some products that are reported to reduce its duration and severity. Many cold sufferers use zinc to ease cold symptoms and get better faster. Herbal treatments include echinacea, chamomile, licorice and garlic. And over-the-counter remedies for specific symptoms, such as cough drops, nasal spray, and pain medicines, can make you feel better until the cold goes away on its own.

The common cold may not be cause for alarm, but it is definitely a nuisance. It can keep us out of work and school, and it can put a damper on our home and social lives. There is no magic bullet that will make a cold go away, but getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids will help our bodies fight it off more quickly.

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