How Long Does a Cold Last?

Girl with cold.
Woman with a cold. Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

I know pretty much as soon as I get sick, my first thought is, "when will I feel like myself again?" Somehow, I am sure I'm not the only one. While colds certainly aren't the worst of the common illnesses out there, no one wants to get one — and when you have one, you just want to feel better.

Luckily, colds are typically fairly short-lived, and most of us recover from them without any real treatment or complications.

But that doesn't mean they are fun.

What To Expect

How long should you expect those annoying symptoms to last?

Most colds last between 7 and 10 days but can last anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks.

After you are exposed to a cold virus, symptoms typically start to appear 2 to 3 days later. This is called the incubation period. Every illness has an incubation period but how long it is will be different depending on the cause.

Cold Symptoms

When you get a cold, you will likely have several symptoms that come and go, meaning you won't have all of them all at the same time and some you won't have at all. Symptoms you might experience when you get a cold include:

  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Watery Eyes
  • Itching Eyes, Face, Nose or Throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue or Feeling Tired
  • Fever - more common in kids than adults

While you probably won't get all of these symptoms every time you get a cold, you will have some of them.

And chances are you won't like any of them. 

Cold Treatments

There is no cure for the common cold, so treatment really consists of relieving your symptoms. There are hundreds of medications out there that claim to relieve your cold symptoms. Some of them may help and others won't.

Figuring out which one is right for you can be tricky when there are so many options.

It's best to take medications that treat only the symptoms you have, so you aren't taking medication that you don't need, which can cause unnecessary side effects.

If you don't want to take medications or you are looking for other ways to feel better, there are plenty of things you can do that don't involve swallowing a pill. Getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated are just a few things you can do to recover from your cold at home. You can also try saline spray for congestion or use a neti pot to rinse mucus out of your sinuses. Just remember to always use distilled or previously boiled water if you are rinsing your sinuses to avoid an even more severe infection. 

In the end, your cold should go away in about a week. If you still have symptoms after that - and especially if they are getting worse instead of better - contact your health care provider for an evaluation. It could be that your symptoms are caused by something other than a cold or you have developed another infection.



Common Cold MedlinePlus 17 Jun 13. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 24 Jun 13.

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