For Patients

HomeCOPD GuidelinesFor Patients ▶ How Do I Know If I Have a Cold?

How Do I Know If I Have a Cold?

It is sometimes difficult to figure out if a respiratory infection is a cold or the flu, or a respiratory infection for another reason. A cold or flu can often be the first sign of an exacerbation. The most common signs and symptoms of a cold start gradually and can include a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and/or a sore throat. You may or may not experience a fever, headache or extreme exhaustion with a cold. A cold is an infection caused by a virus. Colds are easily transmitted (passed from one person to another) between people who are infected. A cold is transmitted either by contaminated air we breathe, or by touching something or someone with the virus. For example, a cold can be transmitted by inhaling the air of a person with a cold who coughs or sneezes near you. A cold can also be transmitted by shaking hands with someone with a cold and then touching your nose or eyes. Besides avoiding people with colds, a person with COPD should be careful to wash their hands after having contact with people with a cold or suspected of having a cold.

Are colds dangerous?

Respiratory infections from a cold are generally not dangerous. However, people who get a cold who have COPD, people who are very sick (receiving chemotherapy) or people who are weak (elderly) may become more ill if they get a cold

What can I do to treat a cold?

For most people, treating their symptoms of the cold is the best and only treatment that is needed. For example, if a cold causes your sputum to become thickened, drink large amounts of fluids. If your nose becomes congested, use a decongestant or nasal spray. Nasal decongestants should only be used for several days. Avoid giving your cold to others by not having contact with others for 3-4 days.

When should I call my healthcare provider about my cold?

Call your provider if the symptoms continue to worsen. Signs of worsening are when the mucus from your lungs turns deep yellow, your shortness of breath becomes more severe than usual and won’t go away, you develop a fever, or you are suddenly unable to get out of bed.

Last Reviewed: February 2015