Most of us have felt the effects of a common cold – adults get one once or twice a year, and children up to six times a year. Many viruses cause the symptoms of a cold, with rhinovirus being the most likely culprit. Symptoms of a cold include sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, sore throat and a cough. A cold is usually mild and you get better after one or two weeks. Currently, COVID-19 is at the forefront of all our minds, so how do you tell them apart? The short answer is that you can’t tell for definite without a swab, but some symptoms point more towards one than the other. Similarities include having a cough, sore throat, tiredness, a runny nose and changes to taste or sense of smell. A fever and breathlessness are more likely to lean towards COVID-19 and sneezing is more likely with a cold. If you have a continuous new cough, a fever or a change in your sense of taste or smell, you should follow government guidance to stay at home and arrange to be tested at a test centre or order a home test.
The common cold is contagious. Tiny virus-filled droplets from a cough or sneeze are breathed in by anyone nearby, or the virus can spread simply by talking closely with someone with a cold, or from touching infected surfaces and then touching your face. You are contagious from a couple of days before you develop symptoms until your symptoms have all cleared up. Regular hand washing can lower your chance of catching or passing on a cold. Wearing a face mask can prevent you from passing on the cold virus via droplets you breathe and sneeze out of your mouth and nose.
You should rest up with a cold, stay well-hydrated with water or O.R.S and take paracetamol to help with any pain from a sore throat.
You are fit for work if you have a cold. If you think it’s COVID-19, you should follow government guidelines to stay at home, isolate and arrange for a COVID-19 PCR test.
There’s usually no need to see a doctor with a cold, as your body overcomes it after one to two weeks and it’s a viral infection, so antibiotics won't help. You could call your doctor for advice if your cold doesn’t improve after two weeks.