Catawba Valley Healthcare is an independent, comprehensive, non-profit healthcare organization that offers a wide range of whole-person healthcare and services that integrate physical and mental health.

The Common Cold

The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat (your upper respiratory tract). Many different types of viruses can cause a cold. Most infections are benign, and your immune system is designed to fight many viruses effectively. But this does not mean that you will not feel lousy and be out of commission for a few, or several, days. Healthy adults typically get 2-3 colds a year, while infants and children usually have more.

Most people recover from common colds in about a week or 10 days. However, symptoms can last longer in people who smoke or who have underlying medical conditions. Generally, you do not need to see your primary care provider for a cold unless your symptoms feel severe, worsen, or do not clear after 10 days. In that case, a call or visit with your provider could uncover complications or reasons that your recovery is not progressing.

Common Cold

Symptoms of a common cold typically appear 1-3 days after exposure to a cold-causing virus. Symptoms might include:

  • Runny, stuffy nose, sneezing
  • Cough, sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Low-grade fever
  • Generally feeling unwell

The discharge from your nose usually begins clear, but it may become thicker and yellow or green in color as your cold runs its course. This change in color does not mean you have a bacterial infection. However, if the discharge persists past the ordinary 10-day period, you should contact your provider for an appointment or come into our acute care clinic.

The common cold, COVID-19, seasonal allergies, and the flu have many similar symptoms. Below are some of the essential differences between these illnesses.

What’s the difference between the common cold and COVID-19?

Viruses are the underlying cause behind both COVID-19 and the common cold. However, COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, while the common cold is usually caused by rhinoviruses. While these viruses spread in similar ways and cause many of the same symptoms, there are a few important differences as noted in this chart below from the Mayo Clinic.

Symptom or sign COVID-19 Cold
Cough Usually (dry) Usually
Muscle aches Usually Sometimes
Tiredness Usually Sometimes
Sneezing Rarely Sometimes
Sore throat Usually Usually
Runny or stuffy nose Usually Usually
Fever Usually Sometimes
Diarrhea Sometimes Never
Nausea or vomiting Sometimes Never
New loss of taste or smell Usually (early — often without a runny or stuffy nose) Sometimes (especially with a stuffy nose)


Symptoms of a common cold usually appear 1-3 days after exposure to a cold-causing virus. COVID-19 symptoms, on the other hand, can occur 2-14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Treating the Common Cold

Since there is no cure for the common cold, treating its symptoms is the only course of action. Treatments may include over-the-counter cold remedies such as decongestants and pain relievers. Unlike COVID-19, a cold is usually harmless. Most people recover from a common cold in 3-10 days, although some colds can last as long as 2-3 weeks.

With the country and the world currently in the middle of a worldwide COVID pandemic, we at Catawba Valley Healthcare want you to call us about any of your worrisome or prolonged cold symptoms so we can give your case the individualized attention it needs. We want to make sure your cold symptoms are from a common cold virus and not SARS-CoV-2. As always, we will care for you with your comfort and privacy in mind as we strive to keep you and your loved ones as safe and as healthy as possible during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Call us today at (828) 695-5900.