Carefree M.D. Blog

How Long Does a Common Cold Last?

Carefree MD

May 19, 2021 | Blog


Having a cold is annoying. Your nose drips, you have a headache, and your throat is probably sore too. You can’t wait for this illness to be over, can you? Find out how long a cold lasts, why your symptoms aren’t improving, and when you should see a doctor. 

What Is the Common Cold?

The common cold is quite aptly named. It’s very common. You most likely had it before, and most people catch it on a regular basis. Adults catch the cold 2-4 times per year. Meanwhile, children can catch it up to 6-8 times.

The cold is an upper respiratory viral infection. There are various types of rhinoviruses that can cause it. If you catch a cold, you’ll probably have mild symptoms. 

Symptoms of the Common Cold

Although there are various symptoms you can have, the most common symptoms of the common cold are:

How Long Does a Cold Last for Adults?

According to the CDC, a cold lasts around 7 to 10 days for adults. Usually, during this period, you’ll experience three distinct phases of cold symptoms. Learn more about them to determine where you are in your recovery process.

Early Cold Symptoms

The symptoms of your cold can first appear as early as 10-12 hours after you’ve been infected. The first symptoms you’ll likely notice are a sore throat and fatigue. This stage of your cold only lasts a couple of days.

Peak Cold Symptoms

Your cold will peak 2 or 3 days after your infection. You may develop a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, coughing, headache, and low-grade fever. Luckily, this stage of the cold will also run its course within a couple of days.

Late Cold Symptoms

As your cold symptoms die down, you’ll still have some nasal congestion for the next 3-5 days. If you see yellow or green mucus from your nose, it’s a good sign. It means that your body’s fighting the infection.

In some cases, the cough or fatigue you experienced during your cold could linger for several weeks.

How Long Does a Cold Last for Children?

Children are more likely to catch a cold than adults. And the cold lasts longer for them too. For children, a cold can last up to two weeks. 
Along with the usual symptoms, children may also experience a loss of appetite, irritability, and trouble sleeping.

Usually, children fight off the cold infection within a couple of weeks. However, keep monitoring their symptoms to catch complications early on. Sometimes, children develop ear infections, sinusitis, or a chest infection after a cold.

What to Do If You Have a Cold

Usually, you can treat a cold at home with easy home remedies:

  1. Get plenty of rest: Don’t be afraid to just relax and lay in bed all day. If you have a cold, it’s good for you. But, if you don’t want to lay around, make sure you still take it easy. Avoid physical exercise or exertion.
  2. Drink lots of fluids: Drinking water and hot tea can help soothe your throat ache and hydrate you at the same time.
  3. Take over-the-counter medication: If you have a headache, low-grade fever, or a cough, over-the-counter medications can effectively target and eliminate these symptoms.

When Is My Cold Contagious?

A cold is contagious. So, the last thing you want to do is infect other people and loved ones with it. Unfortunately, you may already be contagious even before you develop symptoms.

Generally, you start being contagious a few days before your symptoms start. Then, you keep spreading the infection as long as you have symptoms. Usually, you’re most contagious 2-3 days after your first symptoms appear.

If you have a cold, it’s best to stay at home. Take a sick day, or don’t let your child go to school or kindergarten. You can protect yourself and others from catching the cold as well.

Why Won’t My Cold Go Away?

Does your cold last longer than 7-10 days? There are a couple of reasons why your cold symptoms don’t go away as fast you’d like them to. Could any of these situations apply to you?

1. You’re Not Resting Enough

When you sleep, your immune system can actively target and destroy the infection. So, if you’re not letting your body rest and sleep enough when you have a cold, you’re working against yourself.

Allow yourself to rest and sleep as much as your body needs.

2. You’re Not Drinking Enough Fluids

It’s easy to get dehydrated when you have a cold. A fever dries out your body. A sore throat can make it hard to swallow. And the mucus in your nose is also made out of water.

Drinking lots of water and fluids is crucial to keep yourself hydrated and fight off a cold infection in time.

3. You’re Taking the Wrong Things

Everybody’s heard of miracle cures and herbal remedies that make a cold disappear instantly. Many people down Vitamin C to feel better. Others use echinacea. In reality, these have little to no effect on your cold symptoms.

Taking over-the-counter painkillers and cough medicine will effectively relieve your cold symptoms.

4. You’re Stressed

Are you worried about school, life, or work? Everyday stress can occupy your immune system just as much as a viral infection. If there are significant stresses in your life, you’re more likely to have a longer-lasting cold than others.

Yoga, meditation, and therapy can effectively lower your stress levels and restore your immune system.

5. It’s Not a Cold

Occasionally, other illnesses have the same symptoms as the common cold. Allergies and sinusitis can often look like the cold at first, but they last longer. However, they’re easy to tell apart if you know the symptoms. 

While a cold develops over several days, allergic reactions are almost instant. And allergies last for as long as you’re in contact with the thing that causes it.

Sinusitis also has similar symptoms to a cold. The only difference is when you feel them. A runny nose, mucus, or sinus pressure at the beginning of your illness is a cold. If you notice these symptoms later, it’s more likely sinusitis.

When Should You See a Doctor?

There’s a point when your cold lasts so long, you’re wondering if you should see a doctor for it.

If you’re an adult and your cold lasts more than two weeks, you should definitely see a doctor. Additionally, if you develop any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Rising fever (103°F)
  • Can’t keep food or water down
  • Persistent cough
  • Persistent headache

These symptoms indicate that your illness isn’t just a simple cold.

Talk to a Doctor About Your Cold

Whether you’ve had your cold peak recently or you have long cold symptoms, it’s best to speak to a doctor about them. But, that’s probably not comfortable, especially if you have fatigue. Luckily, you don’t even need to leave your bed to talk to a doctor.


All you need is a smart device, an internet connection, and Carefree MD.


Carefree MD’s board-certified physicians can help you with your cold without leaving your home. Your doctor can diagnose an illness, create a treatment plan, and even prescribe medications when medically necessary and have them sent to your local pharmacy


Talk to a doctor online about your cold symptoms when you become a Carefree MD member.



The Carefree MD blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed doctor or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

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