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Symptoms of Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Symptoms of Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

The Common Cold

The symptoms of a common cold usually go away on their own in 1 to 2 weeks.

Symptoms include:

  • A stuffy nose
  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Feeling run down or tired
  • No or minimal fever
Sore Throat due to Inflammation.

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Influenza ( Flu)

Symptoms of the flu may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Severe tiredness
  • Lack of hunger
  • Dry cough
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache and/or severe muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Some things to look out for are:

Runny Nose

Discharge from the nose is usually clear and watery to begin with. Later the discharge becomes thicker and perhaps yellow or green. Sometimes a sinus infection may develop. Signs of a sinus infection may be yellow or green discharge combined with:
  • A fever
  • Sore face
  • Lasting symptoms

Dry Cough

A dry cough is much less problematic than a wet cough. A cough with yellow, green, or bloody colored mucus could be a sign of acute bronchitis or pneumonia. This is even more important for those who are smokers.

Sore Throat

Sore throats are common with colds and flu. However, if the neck glands are swollen or the throat is bright red or has yellow or white spots, it may be strep throat. Strep throat may need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent problems, such as a middle ear infection or rheumatic fever.

If you notice changes like these in your cold or flu symptoms, call your doctor.


  • Common cold. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/common-cold. Accessed March 11, 2022.
  • Influenza in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/influenza-in-adults. Accessed March 11, 2022.
  • Influenza. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/influenza. Updated Accessed March 11, 2022.
  • Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/upper-respiratory-infection-uri-in-adults-and-adolescents-18. Accessed March 11, 2022.


  • David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.