How Long Does the Common Cold Last?

common cold sneezing

Share This Post

When we talk about the common cold, we’re referring to a specific group of symptoms that typically include a runny nose and congestion, among other things.

The common cold is a viral infection that affects the nose and throat, but while we typically refer to the cold virus as if it is one specific sickness, it is actually caused by more than 200 different viruses. Rhinoviruses cause more colds than any other virus, at an estimated 10 to 40 percent of colds, while the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is another common cause.

Most adults catch an average of two to four cold viruses per year, with the majority of infections occurring between September and May, while children suffer from between six to eight colds per year on average.

Everyone catches a cold occasionally, so we all know how unpleasant they are. When you’re sick, you just want to get better as quickly as possible, so how long does the common cold last?

How Long Does the Common Cold Last?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that recovery from the common cold takes most adults about seven to ten days. Children are often sick for longer, sometimes up to two weeks.  

Not the answer you were hoping for? The cold actually has three distinct phases, including the early phase, peak phase, and late phase, each of which is marked by different cold symptoms. 

Early Symptoms

The first signs of a cold set in fairly quickly after you’ve picked up the virus – typically within just ten to twelve hours of infection.

Most people notice that their throat begins to feel sore or scratchy, and they often feel more tired than normal. Most people experience the early symptoms of a cold for the first two or three days before their symptoms escalate. 
Peak Symptoms

The cold reaches its peak about two to three days after infection, and this is when most people feel their worst. The sore and scratchy throat continues to escalate and tiredness turns to fatigue and body aches.

At this point, many people develop a runny or congested nose, start sneezing and experience other symptoms, including a low-grade fever, watery eyes, a cough, or headache.

This peak period typically lasts another two to three days depending on how much rest you are able to get and how well you take care of yourself during this time. After two to three days, peak symptoms transition into late symptoms.

Late Symptoms

The final phase of common cold side effects including nasal congestion continues for the last three to five days, with the discharge sometimes appearing yellow or green in color.

Contrary to popular belief, a colored discharge is not necessarily a sign of bacterial infection; in this case, it simply means that your immune system is fighting off the virus.

A person’s cough or fatigue may continue to linger, especially if the patient is not able to get adequate rest while fighting the cold. Overall, most adults will experience a cold for seven to ten days, but they can last for several weeks in some patients. 

How Do Colds Affect Children Differently?

As previously noted, children are often sicker for longer than adults when they catch the common cold, and they get sick more often.

Colds in children can last for up to two weeks or more.

Children experience all of the same symptoms described above for adults in addition to other symptoms that are unique to kids, including:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Diminished appetite
  • Difficulty breastfeeding or eating

 Children can also develop complications from colds more easily because their immune systems are not as strong as adult immune systems.

Common complications of colds can include ear infections, sinus infections, and chest infections. Symptoms of each complication are as follows:

  • Ear infection: Marked by increased irritability, ear scratching, or ear rubbing
  • Sinus infection: Nasal congestion, discharge that appears for more than ten days, the face is tender to the touch, possible fever
  • Chest infection: Marked by difficulty breathing, wheezing, widening nostrils, etc. 

How Can I Get Rid of a Cold More Quickly?

Everyone wants to get back to work and school and get on with their lives when they’re sick, but recovering from a cold doesn’t happen overnight.

The best way to recover from a cold quickly is to start resting as soon as you notice an onset of symptoms.

Otherwise, because the cold is caused by any number of different viruses, you can’t treat it with antibiotics or other medications; you can only treat the symptoms. Commonly recommended medications for the treatment of symptoms include:

  • Taking over the counter (OTC) pain relievers like ibuprofen, Tylenol, and acetaminophen to relieve symptoms of fever, headache, or muscle aches and pains
  • Taking over the counter decongestants or using a nasal spray to reduce nasal congestion
  • Taking over the counter antihistamines to treat runny nose, watery or itchy eyes, and reduce sneezing
  • Taking over the counter expectorants to make your cough more productive
  • Taking a zinc or Vitamin C supplement at the onset of a cold in order to reduce the length of symptoms

If you’d prefer not to take medication, you can also take good care of yourself at home with these basic home remedies:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated; this keeps mucus from thickening
  • Using throat lozenges or gargling with salt water to ease a sore throat
  • Adding honey to a cup of warm tea to quiet a cough
  • Placing a humidifier in the room where you’re resting to add moisture to the air, which can help reduce nasal congestion 
  • Taking a hot shower to loosen up congestion
  • Getting plenty of rest

Of course, you want to get well soon, but you also want to prevent others from getting sick and catching your cold.

The cold is an infectious disease and it spreads most easily when your symptoms are at their peak.

While you’re sick, avoid close contact with people (shaking hands, hugging, kissing, etc), cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your arm when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands regularly (especially after sneezing or coughing), and disinfect any surface that you touch.

Your friends, family, and coworkers will thank you!

References, Studies and Sources:

medically reviewed and fact checked

We are committed to providing our readers with only trusted resources and science-based studies with regards to medication and health information. 

Disclaimer: This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. If you suspect medical problems or need medical help or advice, please talk with your healthcare professional.

Share This Post Discount Club

Get Started for $1.

  • Cheapest cash pay option at your retail pharmacy
  • 1,000s of drugs below $10.00 that can beat your co-pay
  • Start for $1 for your first month. Cancel anytime. 
  • Tell us your meds, we tell you the cheapest options.

Popular Destinations

Recent Articles

What is Oseltamivir?

Individuals who belong to high-risk categories, like being in the age group above 65, young children, or pregnant women may need to seek medical care. Anti-viral drugs that target the influenza virus are usually prescribed in these cases and to otherwise healthy individuals that may experience severe symptoms. One of the major drugs that is prescribed for an Influenza infection is oseltamivir, also known as the brand name Tamiflu. 

Read More »

What is Oseltamivir Used For?

What is Oseltamivir? Oseltamivir, or Tamiflu, is an anti-Influenza drug that is in very high demand during the flu season. Although the drug can be quite expensive and can cost up to $100 for a course, the drug is extremely popular in treating the flu. The drug is so popular that in December 2019, there was speculation that it may be made available over-the-counter at some point in the future.

Read More »
a woman sneezing with the flu

What Is the First Sign of the Flu?

It’s that time of year again, and before you know it, you find yourself calling into work because you woke up feeling sick. The trouble is, you’re not exactly sure what it is that you’re sick with just based on the early signs, so you aren’t sure how to treat it. Is it the common cold, and you’ll feel better in a few days, or is it the flu, and you’re only making the situation worse by not going to the doctor right away? The early symptoms of the flu can often be similar to those of the common cold, so it is easy to get confused. What is the first sign of the flu and what should you do if you think you’ve got it?

Read More »

Share On:

More To Explore

What is Oseltamivir?

Individuals who belong to high-risk categories, like being in the age group above 65, young children, or pregnant women may need to seek medical

What is Oseltamivir Used For?

What is Oseltamivir? Oseltamivir, or Tamiflu, is an anti-Influenza drug that is in very high demand during the flu season. Although the drug can

What Is the First Sign of the Flu?

It’s that time of year again, and before you know it, you find yourself calling into work because you woke up feeling sick. The

Common Side Effects of Oseltamivir

Oseltamivir, also known as the brand Tamiflu marketed by pharma giant Roche, is one of the most commonly prescribed anti-viral drugs prescribed for this

What is Augmentin Used For?

The human body naturally contains trillions of bacteria that perform functions in our body that are good for us. An example of this is

When are you no longer contagious with the flu?

In this article, we will answer all those questions and discuss what the flu is, its symptoms, and how it is spread. We will

How Long is the Flu Contagious?

In this article, we will answer some common questions about the flu including how long you are contagious, review the best treatment options available,

How Effective is the Flu Vaccine Every Year?

In this article, we will explore how data is collected to track a flu vaccine's effectiveness and the benefits of flu vaccination even if

What is Influenza B and How is It Different From Other Forms of the Flu?

In this article, we will discuss what influenza B is, how it is different from other forms of the flu, and how to protect

Augmentin Side Effects: What You Should Know

One of the hardest decisions people struggle with when they get sick is when to visit the doctor. This is especially true during fall

How Long Do the Symptoms of the Flu Last?

In this article, we will answer how long flu symptoms last while also providing information on how to treat the flu and how to

How Long Does Stomach Flu Last and What Are the Treatment Options

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about stomach flu, how to treat it, and how to prevent getting it.

What is Augmentin?

What is Augmentin and what is it used for? Keep reading for more details.

Is Azithromycin a Penicillin?

Penicillin was originally used to describe the drug benzylpenicillin, or Penicillin G. Now, it is used to describe a group of antibiotics that all

Examining Mortality Rates of the Flu and COVID-19

In this article, we will explore all of the important information about both viruses including how they spread, symptoms, treatment, and mortality rate, and

Everything You Need to Know About the Flu Vaccine: FAQs

In this article, we will answer all of your questions about the flu vaccine and cover everything from what the flu is, when is

The Flu in Children: What You Need to Know

In this article, we will provide information on the flu in children, including how it spreads, what are the complications, and when you need

When is Flu Season?

In this article we will discuss the flu and its symptoms, when is flu season, as well as different ways to prevent the flu.

When Does Flu Season Start?

In this article, we will answer all of your questions about flu season including when it is, how the data is collected and monitored,

Why you need a flu vaccine this year

The flu can cause a host of severe symptoms and medical complications. Flu shots are now more accessible than ever. It’s essential to get the

How Does the Flu Spread?

In this article, we will discuss how the flu spreads and how to protect yourself from it.

How long does a cold last: Expected time line and tips for how to get better

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is another common cold virus, and the remainder of colds are caused by less common viruses you probably have

Where Can I Buy Azithromycin? (2023)

Most people who develop symptoms of a cough or cold look for medications that will help them feel better as quickly as possible. Usually,

What are the Best Treatment Options for the Flu?

In this article, we will discuss the different treatment options for the flu, when you need to see your doctor, and how long you

What is the Incubation Period for the Flu?

In addition to the incubation period and treatment options, we will discuss how the flu spreads, its symptoms, and provide you with tips on

Can You Take Augmentin and Alcohol Together? (2023)

Augmentin is a commonly prescribed antibiotic. If prescribed, make sure you understand the effects of Augmentin and alcohol together. Read on for details.

How Much Does Tamiflu Cost?

With everyone desperate to reduce the time that they spend sick and keep symptom severity to a minimum, drugs like Tamiflu that promise to