Health & Medicine

How long does a cold last?

cold last

A common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat, together called upper respiratory tract. There are more than a 100 viruses that can cause the common cold. These viruses can be caught when we inhale the bacteria or virus, spread by an infected person’s sneeze or cough; or touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face or mouth with the same hand.

Manifestations of the common cold:

Symptoms start appearing after 1-4 days of catching the virus. The cold symptoms and progress can be divided into three stages.

Stage 1: Early Symptoms of Cold

After the incubation period, the viral symptoms start appearing in the first 24 hours of disease activity include:

  • Burning or scratchy sensation in throat or nose
  • Sore throat
  • Unwell feel

Stage 2: Peak of symptoms of Cold

The peak of symptoms occurs from the first few days to the mid of second week, a total of 3-7 days. These symptoms, in addition to those listed above, may be sneezing, runny or congested nose, watery eye, mild cough, low-grade fever, feeling tired, headache, and bodyaches.

The nasal discharge is initially watery but may become thicker and yellow or greenish in color. Sometimes there is a risk of a superimposed bacterial infection, especially involving the sinuses, inner ears or lungs.

It is in this stage that the patient is considered to be the most contagious, so it is better to rest and stay home.

Stage 3: Recovery phase of Cold

The recovery phase takes another 3-5 days. By then, the symptoms are usually subsiding, but there may still be nasal congestion and fatigue. Some people experience dwindling dry cough that can last a few weeks.

Treating a cold:

A viral infection usually completes its course of illness. There is no cure for a common cold as antiviral medications are reserved for people with compromised immunity and severe infections.

What can be done during the cold is relieving the symptoms.

  • Use of OTC acetaminophen and ibuprofen to reduce the fever, headache, and bodyaches
  • OTC decongestants to relieve the nasal passage congestion
  • Antihistamines to help alleviate sneezing, and runny, itchy feelings of nose and eyes
  • Expectorants loosen the mucus for easier coughing up
  • Staying home and resting not only prevents spread, it also helps the body in fighting and healing process
  • Adequate fluid and water intake prevents dehydration and breaks off mucus
  • Humidifiers, steam inhalation and nasal saline solutions also ease up the nasal congestion
  • Warm saltwater gargles, lozenges and honey help soothe the throat
  • Chicken soup, broths, honey, and zinc-rich foods like eggs, beans, pumpkin seeds and whole grains, are said to help with the overall symptoms of a cold and the healing process
  • Avoid smoking

Important exceptions:

Under some circumstances, the symptoms do not resolve by themselves over the course of infection. These can be superimposed bacterial infections and patients with weak immune systems. In such situations, medical care is needed to prevent worsening of the illness:

  • Having pre-existing lung diseases or chronic illness
  • Pregnant females, nursing mothers
  • Children younger than 2 years
  • Elderly
  • Symptoms worsening or lasting longer than 10 days
  • High grade fever
  • Productive cough or blood stained sputum
  • Chest pains, Wheezing, Shortness of breath
  • Severe headaches, neck stiffness, earache
  • Severe sore throat, unable to swallow, painful swallowing

How to Prevent Cold:

Hand hygiene plays an important role in preventing the spread of the disease, while a well-balanced diet and exercise keep the immune system active and effective to fight viruses.

How to prevent a cold from spreading to others

The cold is contagious. This means it can be spread from person to person.

When you have a cold, you’re infectious from shortly before your symptoms begin, until they’re gone. However, you are more likely to spread the infection when the symptoms are at their peak — usually within the first 2 to 3 days of a cold.

If you’re sick, follow the instructions below to avoid the spread of your cold to others:

  • Avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, hugging or kissing, with others. Stay home, if you can, instead of going out in public.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover your face with a towel and dispose of the used tissues promptly. Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than into your hand if no tissues are available.
  • Wash your hands after blowing the nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • Disinfect surfaces that you regularly touch, such as door knobs, faucets, refrigerator handles, and toys.

The nutshell

The common cold typically lasts 7-10 days in an adult with an efficient immune system. Since there is no specific cure for a cold, treatment and remedies are directed at improving symptoms. It is important to see the doctor if the symptoms are severe, taking longer to resolve, or getting worse.

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