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How Long Does a Cold Last?

How Long Does a Cold Last?

A common cold may last anywhere between a few days to a few weeks, depending on various factors like the age, level of immunity and the causal agent.
Sonia Nair
Last Updated: May 9, 2018
Cold is one of the common infections in humans, especially kids. Normally common cold is considered harmless, however, in some cases it can lead to certain complications. A very bad cold can cause severe discomfort for a few days. The duration and severity may vary from one person to another.
Duration of Common Cold
How long does a cold last? This is a question that can never be answered accurately. The duration of a cold may vary with different factors like the age and health condition of the person, the causal agent, and the level of immunity. In general, a common cold is found to last for around five to seven days, but in some cases, it can last for two to three weeks too.
  • Incubation Phase: Usually, the symptoms of common cold appear two to three days after exposure to the virus. This is the incubation phase, in which the virus multiplies in millions and barely any symptom is found.
  • Days 1 to 3: The initial symptoms appear in the form of sore throat, sneezing, running nose, headache, tiredness, etc. These symptoms may subside by the third day. While fever is not common in adults, kids may develop the same.
  • Days 3 to 5: As runny nose and sneezing subside, the affected person may develop a slightly thicker nasal discharge with some amount of discoloration. Nasal congestion and post nasal drip may also develop. In some cases headache may worsen and fever may also start. Cough may or may not occur.
  • Days 5 to 10: In an average healthy adult, the symptoms may completely subside by day five to seven. In some cases, complications, like sinusitis, bronchitis, ear infections and even pneumonia may develop. So, it may take around two to three weeks for some people to recover from common cold.
Infectious Stage:
 A person who has contracted common cold can spread the infection right from the incubation phase till the symptoms subside and even after recovery. However, the most contagious phase is said to be the first three to four days, when the symptoms are severe.
In short, common cold may last for a few days to a few weeks, depending on various factors. While some people may recover within three to five days, others may take two to three weeks. If the symptoms last for more than ten days, seek medical attention to rule out the possibility of other conditions like secondary bacterial infections. If the symptoms get severe, medical attention should be sought at the earliest. In most cases, proper care is sufficient to reduce the discomfort and to remedy the condition.
What Causes Common Cold
It's a contagious viral disease:
It is believed that there are around 200 types of virus that can cause common cold and the most common among them are rhinovirus, coxsackievirus and coronavirus. In most cases (almost 50%), common cold is caused by rhinovirus. This virus attacks the protective lining of the nose and throat, causing symptoms of cold. These symptoms are nothing but the reaction of the immune system, which tries to get rid of the virus from the body. As common cold can be caused by many types of virus and new ones develop constantly due to mutation, it is difficult for the human body to build up complete resistance against this disease. Hence, cold is a recurring disease in humans with children contracting it three to twelve times a year and adults contracting it around three to four times a year. This makes common cold one of the most frequently-occurring infections in humans.
How do you catch a Common Cold Usually, common cold is spread as a result of direct contact (through touch) with the contaminated surfaces or with the saliva or nasal secretions of the infected person. In fact, cold virus deposited on household surfaces can survive for a long period of 8 to 48 hours. The virus can also be inhaled by those in the vicinity, when the affected person coughs and sneezes.
Risk Factors
  • Kids and teenagers are more prone to common cold.
  • When compared to men, women are more susceptible, especially around menstrual periods.
  • Those with allergies have higher chances of getting affected with frequent cold.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is said to make a person prone to common cold.
  • Seasonal changes: This infection is common during winter, spring and rainy season.
  • Long-term exposure to air pollutants is another risk factor.
Some people are less likely to develop common cold, even after getting exposed to the virus. They have a very strong immune system that gets rid of the virus from the body, without much difficulty. Those with a weak immune system are more prone to this upper respiratory tract infection. Apart from that, they have higher chances of developing complications like, bronchitis, sinusitis, strep throat and even pneumonia. It has been noted that smokers, those who consume lots of sugar and those with mental and physical stress, are prone to develop this infection. Medical conditions like AIDS, cancer, etc., may suppress the immune system, and this makes the affected people susceptible to infections like common cold.
What are the Symptoms
  • Sneezing, Runny Nose
  • Watery Eyes, Nasal Congestion
  • Sore Throat, Cough
  • Headaches, Muscle Pain
  • Weakness, Loss of Appetite
Though runny nose is one of the initial symptoms, the nasal discharge may thicken within two to three days and get darker in color. In normal cases, fever does not develop, as it is more associated with influenza, which is often mistaken as cold. But many people experience chills and not fever, when infected with cold. Kids may develop fever along with common cold. In some people, common cold can lead to acute bronchitis, bronchiolitis, sinusitis, croup, pneumonia, otitis media, or strep throat. It can also aggravate the symptoms of asthma and chronic bronchitis.
How to Treat a Cold
In fact, there is no specific cure for common cold. You may go for over-the-counter medicines to relieve the symptoms or try some home remedies. Medicines include cough syrups, throat sprays or lozenges to alleviate sore throat, antihistamines and decongestants for nasal congestion and analgesics for fever and headache. Make sure not to administer aspirin and cough syrup to children under the age of four. Antibiotics are not effective against common cold, as it is targeted at bacteria and there is no approved antiviral against cold. It is always better to take antibiotics, after consulting your doctor. In almost all cases, symptoms of common cold subside on their own, within a time span that may vary from one person to another. But, proper care will help to reduce the severity of the condition and to recover soon.
  • Drink lots of warm fluids and take rest
  • Avoid sugary and oily foods
  • Include warm herbal tea and chicken soup in your diet
  • Adopt a balanced and nutritious diet
  • Try to get organic food, especially, chicken and eggs
  • Gargle with warm salt water
  • Try steam inhalation for reducing nasal congestion
  • Keep the head slightly raised, while sleeping
It is also said that zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D supplements are good for getting rid of cold. However, consult your doctor and take the supplements as per his/her advice. Even herbs and spices, like, oregano, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cloves and cinnamon are believed to be beneficial.
Prevention Tips
  • Maintain Good Personal Hygiene
  • Avoid Overuse of Antibacterial Soap/cleansers
  • Get Enough Sleep
  • Exercise Regularly
  • Avoid Physical/Mental Stress
  • No Unnecessary Antibiotics
To conclude, it is always better to prevent cold, as this disease is a self-limiting one that lasts for a specific period of time and subsides with or without treatment. A good lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise will keep you healthy.