10 Crazy Common Cold Symptoms You Probably Didn’t Know About

Updated: Oct. 11, 2022

A runny nose is a sure tell-tale sign that a cold is imminent, but there are also many less obvious symptoms of the common cold.

Symptoms that go beyond the sniffles

A sore throat, cough, and runny nose are the most common symptoms of the common cold—something you’re probably well aware of given that the average adult gets three to four colds a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—but there are a host of other ways your body tells you it’s getting sick. And some of these might surprise you.

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I’m having crazy dreams

Most dreams happen during REM (rapid eye movement), the deepest stage of sleep, and when we are sick and have a fever, our minds can be more active than usual during REM. “Fever can bring on crazy dreams and bizarre thoughts,” says Gina Lynem, MD, a physician with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Fever may be part of the reason for the link between vivid dreams and nightmares and having a cold or flu, according to a study published in the Journal of Pain Symptom Management.  In addition, many common OTC treatments to help alleviate common cold and flu symptoms, like cold medications with antihistamines may also alter REM sleep and increase the chance for having crazy dreams, she says. Nightmares but no cold? You might have one of these 10 other health conditions that can affect your sleep.

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My morning coffee tastes strange

Anywhere from 75 to 95 percent of our taste is related to smell, according to a study published in Flavour. In order to fully appreciate the flavor of foods, we have to be able to smell them, making the nose very important in tasting. So when it is stuffed up with mucus, we can temporarily lose our sense of smell and taste. “When you have a cold, your body is trying to fight off the virus,” says Dr. Lynem. “The tissue in your nasal passages and throat become inflamed and obstructed and because of this, you lose your sense of smell and taste.” A cold isn’t the only illness that can have this effect, like these eight medical reasons why we lose our sense of smell.

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I’m craving junk food

When we are sick we just want to feel better, which means we often turn to comfort foods, says Dr. Lynem. “But instead of reaching for junk food, the best thing to do is to increase your intake of vitamin C—oranges and orange juice.” While craving salty foods may indicate that you are dehydrated, rather than reach for the chips, Dr. Lynem suggests having something that is more soothing and hydrating such as warm apple juice, chicken soup, or hot tea with honey, as honey has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Gargling with salt and warm water is also recommended as it can help decrease the inflammation in your throat, says Dr. Lynem. Here are the top foods to eat when you have a cold.

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I can’t concentrate at work

When you have a cold or the flu, you feel fatigued, your stamina is reduced, and it makes it hard to concentrate, explains Dr. Lynem. “When you can’t focus on what you need to be doing, we recommend staying home,” she says. “Resting for one to two days will boost your immune system so you can get back to being productive.” If your common cold symptoms don’t improve after 10 days or if you have chest pain or shortness of breath, you need to go to the doctor. Here are seven rules for when to call in sick for work.

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I’m thirsty all the time

When you have a cold, you cough, sneeze, and sniffle causing your body to lose fluids through nasal drainage, says Dr. Lynem. A low-grade fever (100 degrees or less) is also a symptom of a common cold, causing you to sweat and lose body fluids. The loss of body fluids, along with the fact that your mouth may be dry because you can’t breathe through your nose, makes us thirstier than usual, she says. Drinking warm liquids such as chicken soup can help with hydration and may help with congestion by thinning down the mucus, she adds. While staying hydrated is important, don’t overdo it — too much fluid can lead to over-hydration, which can lead to a dangerous electrolyte imbalance.

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My head hurts when I brush my hair

Muscle aches and pains are common cold symptoms and can affect all parts of the body, even the muscles of the face and scalp, says Dr. Lynem. “But when you have pain that radiates to the head from the face, that can be a symptom of sinusitis,” she says. Sinusitis—inflammation or swelling of the tissue lining the sinuses—often a result of the common cold, along with dermatitis, migraines, and shingles are all symptoms of scalp sensitivity. If the pain lasts more than 10 days, you should see a doctor, says Dr. Lynem. Here are 10 more symptoms of shingles you might be ignoring.

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I don’t feel like talking to anyone

Illnesses such as the common cold and flu can not only make you feel lethargic, they can mimic and cause symptoms of depressed mood, according to research published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. “When you are not feeling well, you don’t want to be bothered,” says Dr. Lynem. The lack of socialization may also be associated with the weather. “Not only are we more likely to get colds in the winter, we may also be affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which makes us feel sad and lethargic,” she says. “Going outside for a 15-minute walk can boost your mood and your immune system, but don’t overdo it.” If you feel sad in the wintertime and you don’t have a cold, you may have seasonal affective disorder.

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Working out makes me feel better

While exercising when you have a fever or chest congestion is not advised, mild to moderate physical activity is usually okay when you have a common cold, Dr. Lynem says. (And, in fact, regular exercise is one of the 23 daily habits of people who never get sick.) Exercising when you have a cold may help you feel better by opening your nasal passages and temporarily relieving nasal congestion, plus it boosts endorphins, which can make you feel better. Just take it easy and modify your exercise routine. “When you are sick you don’t want to overexpose yourself to the elements, become drenched with sweat, or workout too strenuously,” she says.

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I need to wear my darkest sunglasses

When you have a cold or the flu, your eyes can become red, inflamed, and irritated, making them more sensitive to light, says Dr. Lynem. Headaches caused by blocked sinuses can also contribute to making our eyes extra sensitive to light. Another condition associated with the common cold is viral conjunctivitis (pink eye), which can cause our eyes to itch and burn, become red, and discharge mucus. “When your eyes are sensitive, wearing sunglasses when it is sunny (or not) is recommended,” she says. “Cold compresses, which can help reduce inflammation and pain, are also recommended.” Check out these 39 simple habits to protect your eyes.

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I’m hungrier than usual

When you are sick and are suffering from symptoms of the common cold, you may feel hungrier because your body is trying to build up its immune system and fight off the virus, explains Dr. Lynem. “The saying ‘feed a cold, starve a fever’ is an old wives tale—you always want to get proper nutrition, especially when you are sick,” she explains. Homemade chicken soup is a good option because it offers vitamins, protein, and is hydrating. Other foods to eat when you have a cold include clear broths, garlic, salmon, oatmeal, and hot tea. “Add honey or ginger to your hot tea—both help with inflammation,” says Dr. Lynem. Check out these nine clear signs that a cold is coming and how to stop it.