How Long Does a Common Cold Last?

By Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Table of Contents


People often think of the common cold as a minor inconvenience, but for many people, it can be a serious health concern. The symptoms of the common cold can be quite severe, and in some cases, the illness can even lead to pneumonia.

Anyone can get the common cold, but people over the age of 65 are at a higher risk. Symptoms include the sudden onset of a sore throat, coughing, and fever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the incidence of the common cold has been increasing over the past few decades.

The CDC reports that the incidence of the cold virus peaked in 2010, and has since been on the decline. The most common age group to contract the virus is adults aged 18 to 44. While the common cold is not a particularly dangerous illness, it can be annoying and uncomfortable.

Common Cold Symptoms

The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract that affects both adults and children. The common cold is usually caused by a virus, and it is contagious. The symptoms are a runny nose, a sore throat, sneezing, and coughing.

The common cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory system, which includes your nose, throat, sinuses, and the upper part of your windpipe.

Colds are usually harmless and go away on their own within one to two weeks.

But colds can be miserable and make it hard for you to get through your day.

Symptoms of a cold commonly include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild fever
  • Nasal discharge that is either yellow or greenish in color.
  • Body aches or malaise
  • Ill-looking
  • Headache
  • Stuffed nose

There are key differences between the common cold and the flu. Colds and flu generally involve a runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and a sore throat.

Flu symptoms are more severe and can include fever, chills, body aches, and fatigue. Flu symptoms can also lead to more serious complications, such as pneumonia.

The difference between the two illnesses is hardly identifiable as both diseases spread in the same season.

Causes of the Common Cold

There are many different causes of the common cold, but the most common is the virus. The virus enters through your nose or mouth, and once it is inside your body, it begins to multiply.

The common cold is most commonly seen in the winter, but it can occur at any time of the year.

The common cold is caused by a virus, which is a small infectious particle.

There are many different types of viruses that can cause a cold, but the most common one is the rhinovirus. The rhinovirus is a type of virus that is responsible for most colds. (40-50%)

Other viruses that can cause a cold include the adenovirus, the coronavirus, and the parainfluenza virus. There are nearly 200 types of cold viruses that can cause the common cold.

Seasonal coronaviruses can also cause the common cold, which is an innocent distinct form from the SARSCov 2 virus, which can cause COVID-19 infection.

The influenza virus is what causes the flu.

Diagnosis of the Common Cold

The common cold is an upper respiratory tract infection caused by a number of different viruses.

The diagnosis can be difficult to make as the symptoms are variable and may not be specific to a particular virus.

If you have a high fever, body aches, or localized chest pain, or if the symptoms last for more than 10 days, you should see a doctor.

The symptoms of a common cold may last for 7 to 10 days, but if they continue for a longer period of time, a doctor will order some blood tests and lung x-rays to look for complications like pneumonia.

Treatments for the Common Cold

There are many cold medicines available over the counter, and they can be helpful in relieving symptoms. However, it is important to remember that these medicines will not cure a cold or shorten the duration of the illness.

Additionally, some cold medicines can have side effects, so it is important to read the label carefully before taking them.

There are many treatments that are used to make the common cold go away. The most common over-the-counter medications are

  • Pain Killers
  • Acetaminophen (tylenol), NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen),
  • Antihistamines
  • Piriton, Loratadine, Cetirizine
  • Zink Lozenges

These will reduce cold symptoms and ease a sore throat.

  • Decongestants (oral syrup or nasal spray)
  • Oxymetazoline (Clin or Drixoral), Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed),

These medications can be found in drug stores and online pharmacies.

Does the common cold require any treatment? The actual answer is “No. The common cold can be easily treated without drugs with plenty of rest and hydration.

Some people believe that these over-the-counter medications have side effects such as drowsiness and nausea, so they prefer to use natural remedies for the common cold instead of drugs.

Some of the methods that may help to ease cold symptoms are

  • Drinking plenty of hot water
  • Adequate rest
  • Using a hot pack for sinuses
  • Placing a humidifier near your bed
  • Eating plenty of healthy food during and after meals
  • Gargling the throat with salt and warm water
  • Avoid smoking

How to Prevent the Common Cold

The common cold is a viral infection that typically lasts for about 2-3 weeks. The duration of the common cold can vary from person to person depending on the severity of the infection.

There are many ways to prevent getting a cold.

Washing Your Hands

First, it’s important to wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Do not Touch Your Face and Nose!

Second, avoid touching your eyes or nose because this is how germs are spread.

Keeping the Distance

Third, stay away from people who are sick because they can easily pass their germs on to you too!

Vitamins (C & E)

Vitamin C in amounts ranging from 500 mg to 1 gram per day with vitamin E (400 to 800 IU per day) is a better combination to boost your immune response during the winter season.

Consume Healthy Food

Eat foods high in antioxidants like fresh fruits and vegetables, including dark leafy greens like spinach and kale!

Antioxidants help fight off free radicals that damage cells on a cellular level and cause them to become inflamed. You can eat fresh veggies alternative with fresh veggies and fruits 5 servings per day.

Zinc Supplements

Take zinc supplements if you’re at risk for zinc deficiency because of certain medications or conditions.

Avoid Using Shared Spaces!

The common cold can easily be spread by contact. Thus, it is better to avoid common shared places or use good hand hygiene and wear a mask when you visit those places.

At home, you can clean the toys, remotes, and tables when many people have touched them very often.

Utensils should not be shared!

It is important not to share your cups, glasses, or spoons with others as there is a high risk of transmission of the disease.

Sneezing Techniques

Health organizations advise using tissue or a similar fabric during sneezing or to sneeze at the bend of the elbow in public places. This will prevent the direct spread of common viruses.

Rest at Home

Once you have contracted a common cold, it is important to stay at home to avoid the spread of the disease to others.

Sleep Well

Because many immune cells are produced during sleep, getting 6-8 hours of sleep per night is essential for your immune system to function. So having a good night’s sleep might boost your immune system

The Common Cold Stages

The common cold is a viral infection that usually lasts for about a week. It’s caused by over 200 different viruses, and the symptoms depend on which virus you have.

There are four stages of the common cold:

  • Incubation period
  • The symptom period
  • The remission period
  • The recovery period

Incubation Period

The incubation period of a cold can last anywhere from two days to four days. The common cold is a respiratory infection caused by the rhinovirus, transmitted through nose and throat droplets.

The virus starts by infecting the cells in the nose and throat. It usually takes about two days for symptoms to start appearing after being infected with a rhinovirus.

The symptoms of a cold can be mild or severe, but most people recover within one to three weeks.

Symptom Period

The patient may have symptoms of a runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and mild fever. The symptoms could last 3-4 days. Coughing and hoarseness may occur due to postnasal drip of mucus.

You may feel irritated and your body might be in pain.


During this period, the patient may have dry mucus in the nose which is crusted. There may be difficulty in breathing from the nose. You may have a nasal voice.


This period is the recovery period. The patient is completely free of symptoms. A mild cough and hoarseness of the voice may occur.

When to See a Medical Professional

The common cold is a viral infection that can cause symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, and runny nose. It usually lasts 7–10 days and does not require medical treatment.

It is important to see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • high fever: (more than 39 Celsius)
  • severe cough
  • sore throat and pain in swallowing
  • trouble breathing
  • localized chest pain
  • Headache
  • Ear ache
  • Continuous vomiting
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath

TeleHealthDoc articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Dr. Pallavi Sharma

Dr. Pallavi Sharma is one of Melbourne’s best, well respected cosmetic doctors and aims to provide longstanding anti-aging benefits for her clients. With over 11 years experience in Performing cosmetic procedures, Dr. Sharma has lectured medical professionals regarding cosmetic treatments and is heavily involved in providing up to date cosmetic treatments to her clients and friends.
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