Symptoms of a common cold 

The first symptom of a cold is usually a sore or irritated throat.

This is then followed by other symptoms, including:

  • a blocked nose (nasal congestion) – caused by a build up of phlegm or mucus (catarrh)
  • nasal pain and irritation
  • sneezing
  • a runny nose (nasal discharge) – the discharge is usually clear and runny at first before becoming thicker and darker over the course of the infection
  • coughing – this symptom occurs in one out of every three cases 
  • a hoarse voice 
  • a general sense of feeling unwell

Less common symptoms of a cold include:

  • a usually mild temperature (fever) of around 38–39°C (100.4–102.2°F) 
  • headache
  • earache – severe earache may be a sign of a middle ear infection (otitis media)
  • muscle pain
  • loss of taste and smell
  • mild irritation of your eyes
  • a feeling of pressure in your ears and face  

The symptoms of a cold are usually at their worst during the first two to three days of the infection before they gradually start to improve. In adults and older children, the cold usually lasts for about a week. However, if you or your child has a cough, it may last for up to three weeks.

Colds tend to last longer in younger children who are under five. Their symptoms typically last from 10–14 days.

Read more about the common cold in children.


Watch as a GP describes the most common causes for coughs and how they can be treated

Media last reviewed: 22/11/2013

Next review due: 22/11/2015

Cold or flu?

Find out about symptoms of colds and flu and how to stop the viruses spreading

Page last reviewed: 19/06/2013

Next review due: 19/06/2015