Text saying Common Cold laid over a textured background

The common cold is usually caused by a viral infection. Lots of viruses can take hold inside your nose, mouth, throat or lungs, and cause cold symptoms. Colds usually last 3 to 7 days in adults and 10 days in children, but some people have symptoms for up to 2 weeks.

Most people get over a cold without lasting problems. Even so, having a cold can be uncomfortable and it can be hard to know when the symptoms call for a trip to the doctor. 

Symptoms to watch for:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sniffling and runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Chest congestion

How can I tell if I have a cold or the flu?

While symptoms of the common cold and the flu can be similar, there are some important differences that distinguishes one from the other. Differences are outlined in Cold vs Flu symptoms table.

Cold vs Flu symptoms
Symptom Cold Flu
Fever Rare Usual; lasts 3 to 4 days
Headache Rare Common
General aches, pains Slight Usual; often severe
Fatigue, weakness Sometimes Usual, can last up to 3 weeks
Extreme exhaustion Never Usual; at the beginning of the illness
Stuff nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore throat Common Sometimes
Chest discomfort, cough Mild to moderate; hacking cough Common; can become severe

Prevention tips:

  • Clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60-95% alcohol. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes and don’t share utensils, water bottles, lip balm, etc.

What can I do to feel better?

Try over the counter cough and cold medicines. These can treat symptoms, but they won't cure the cold or help you get well faster.

If you do try nonprescription cold medicines, be sure to follow the usage directions on the label. Do not combine two or more medicines that have acetaminophen in them. Too much acetaminophen can damage the liver. 

Contact a medical provider if:

  • A fever of more than 100.4º F (38º C) that comes with shaking chills, loss of appetite or trouble breathing
  • A fever and also have lung disease, such as emphysema or asthma
  • A cough that lasts longer than 10 days
  • Chest pain when you cough, trouble breathing or coughing up blood

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you can schedule an appointment with Medical Services. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 303-492-5432 or online through MyCUHealth.

If you are experiencing these symptoms after hours, contact the 24/7 nurse hotline at 303-492-5101.