The common cold causes symptoms similar to the flu and usually tends to start with a runny nose, combined with fatigue and sore throat. Diarrhea, meanwhile, cause loose and watery stools along with a frequent need to have a bowel movement. It is possible to experience symptoms of the common cold and diarrhea at the same time as some viruses that cause the common cold also cause diarrhea. However, diarrhea is more commonly known as being a symptom of the flu instead of the common cold. But is there a link between the two? Read on to find out everything about whether there is a link between diarrhea and the common cold.
Is There Are A Link Between Cold and Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is usually not the most common symptom of the common cold, but in some cases, it can be a symptom of a cold as well. The common cold can be caused by many types of viruses, though the most common culprits are viruses from the rhinovirus family. Some forms of the adenovirus, coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus and the human parainfluenza virus can also cause the common cold. According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), viruses from the adenovirus family are known to cause inflammation in the stomach and intestines.(1) This causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.(2, 3)
Having a cold can sometimes also cause diarrhea, though not always directly. This is due to the medications you take for battling the common cold, which upsets the digestive system.
A research review carried out in 2016 found that rotavirus infections are the most common viral cause of vomiting and diarrhea in children.(4) It is interesting to note that the rotavirus is not considered to be in the category of viruses that cause the common cold. In children, as well as in adults, rotavirus infections usually mean the stomach flu. The rhinovirus and adenovirus are the two most common cold viruses that may potentially cause diarrhea in children and babies. In fact, the above research review also noted that adenoviruses cause nearly 1.5 to 5.4 percent of all diarrhea cases in children under the age of two.
In another 2016 study that looked at the symptoms of respiratory infections in 993 children participants under the age of two years, it was found that 9.6 percent of the cases were caused by a rhinovirus infection. The main symptoms included diarrhea or vomiting.(5)
Can Diarrhea Cause a Common Cold?
No, diarrhea cannot cause a common cold directly. However, having diarrhea does weaken the immune system, which makes you susceptible to infection by the common cold virus or any other virus or bacteria. According to a research review done in 2017, it is estimated that nearly 70 percent of all the lymphocytes present in the body can be found in the digestive tract. Lymphocytes are specialized white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infections.(6)
At the same time, when you have diarrhea, it may cause a disruption in the levels of good bacteria present in the gut, which increases the risk of developing other infections.
Can Cold and Diarrhea Occur At The Same Time?
Diarrhea is usually caused by either a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection. Or it can even be caused by certain intestinal conditions or food sensitivities. If you have diarrhea along with the symptoms of a cold, it might be a symptom of another condition, including the following:
- Flu: The flu causes many of the same symptoms as the common cold, including a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and a sore throat. In some cases, it is not uncommon to experience nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea when you have the flu. The CDC states that diarrhea is more of a common symptom of the flu in children instead of in adults. (7)
- Stomach flu: The stomach flu, medically known as viral gastroenteritis, is caused by numerous types of viruses. Some of the common symptoms of the stomach flu may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, body pain, headache, abdominal cramps, loss of appetite, etc.(8, 9)
- Food poisoning: Food poisoning is known to cause stomach-related symptoms like diarrhea or nausea/vomiting. Along with this, if you have food poisoning, your body’s immune response can also cause some cold-like symptoms, including headache, fever, chills, and a general feeling of being unwell.
- Hay fever: Hay fever is an allergic reaction to different types of allergens, including pet dander, mold, and pollen. Hay fever is known to cause symptoms similar to the common cold, including a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and fatigue. A small study carried out in 2014 found that some people who have pollen allergies may experience digestive symptoms as well, including diarrhea or vomiting.(10)
- COVID-19: Following the COVID-19 pandemic, it was observed that some people with the viral infection did not experience any symptoms, while on the other hand, some people had to be hospitalized and needed emergency medical assistance. The symptoms of COVID-19 also varied wildly between people, though many people experience flu-like symptoms, including cough, runny nose, fever, and fatigue, Vomiting, and diarrhea were also some of the commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19.(11, 12)
Should You Call A Doctor?
Most of the time, if you have a cold and diarrhea at the same time, or even as stand-alone incidents, there is no need to call a doctor. For adults, though, it is recommended that you seek medical help if the diarrhea episodes do not stop after two days or if you experience severe stomach pain along with diarrhea. For children, it is best to make an appointment with their pediatrician if their diarrhea symptoms do not get better within 24 hours.
When it comes to the common cold, you should call a doctor if you find that you have still not gotten any relief after around ten days or if you notice some kind of unusual or severe symptoms, including loss of smell or taste, as this could be an indication that you have COVID-19 or some other condition.
Diarrhea is usually not the most common symptom of the common cold, though it can be a symptom caused by some of the cold viruses. Diarrhea is usually more likely to be a symptom of the flu, food poisoning, or some stomach bug. If you have a cold, it is expected to get better within a week, though your cough might linger on. And if your symptoms of cold do not get better even after ten days, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
- Symptoms of adenovirus (2019) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/adenovirus/about/symptoms.html (Accessed: November 5, 2022).
- Heikkinen, T. and Järvinen, A., 2003. The common cold. The Lancet, 361(9351), pp.51-59.
- Makela, M.J., Puhakka, T., Ruuskanen, O., Leinonen, M., Saikku, P., Kimpimäki, M., Blomqvist, S., Hyypiä, T. and Arstila, P., 1998. Viruses and bacteria in the etiology of the common cold. Journal of clinical microbiology, 36(2), pp.539-542.
- Oude Munnink, B.B. and Van der Hoek, L., 2016. Viruses causing gastroenteritis: the known, the new and those beyond. Viruses, 8(2), p.42.
- Toivonen, L., Schuez-Havupalo, L., Karppinen, S., Teros-Jaakkola, T., Rulli, M., Mertsola, J., Waris, M. and Peltola, V., 2016. Rhinovirus infections in the first 2 years of life. Pediatrics, 138(3).
- Takiishi, T., Fenero, C.I.M. and Câmara, N.O.S., 2017. Intestinal barrier and gut microbiota: Shaping our immune responses throughout life. Tissue barriers, 5(4), p.e1373208.
- Flu symptoms & complications (2022) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm (Accessed: November 6, 2022).
- Bányai, K., Estes, M.K., Martella, V. and Parashar, U.D., 2018. Viral gastroenteritis. The Lancet, 392(10142), pp.175-186.
- Blacklow, N.R. and Greenberg, H.B., 1991. Viral gastroenteritis. New England Journal of Medicine, 325(4), pp.252-264.
- Rentzos, G., Lundberg, V., Stotzer, P.O., Pullerits, T. and Telemo, E., 2014. Intestinal allergic inflammation in birch pollen allergic patients in relation to pollen season, IgE sensitization profile and gastrointestinal symptoms. Clinical and translational allergy, 4(1), pp.1-11.
- D’amico, F., Baumgart, D.C., Danese, S. and Peyrin-Biroulet, L., 2020. Diarrhea during COVID-19 infection: pathogenesis, epidemiology, prevention, and management. Clinical Gastroenterology and hepatology, 18(8), pp.1663-1672.
- Ghimire, S., Sharma, S., Patel, A., Budhathoki, R., Chakinala, R., Khan, H., Lincoln, M. and Georgeston, M., 2021. Diarrhea is associated with increased severity of disease in COVID-19: systemic review and metaanalysis. SN Comprehensive Clinical Medicine, 3(1), pp.28-35.