How “common” is the cold?
People catch over one billion colds in the United States each year. It’s called a “common cold” for good reason. You’ll likely experience more colds in your lifetime than any other illness.1 Most people get colds in the winter and spring, but it is possible to catch a cold any time of the year. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds a year, and children have even more than that.5 As common as the cold is, it’s never fun to catch it and it is certainly something we don’t like getting used to.
When you get a cold, you want to get over it as fast as possible so you can go back to living life normally instead of being stuck in bed feeling miserable. How long does it take to get over the common cold, and is there anything you can do to speed up the process? It depends on a few factors. Let’s take a look.
Common cold symptoms
Typical cold symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, and cough, can last from 2 to 14 days, though two-thirds of people recover in about a week. However, sometimes a cough that is the result of irritated nerve endings in your airways can stay with you longer. Adults need 18 days on average to completely recover from a cough, and in children a cough can last a good three weeks.2
Adults need 18 days on average to completely recover from a cough, and in children a cough can last a good three weeks.2
More than just a cold
A longer lasting cold could be the result of any secondary bacterial infections that occur, such as in your sinuses. Infections like these require treatment with antibiotics. High fever, significantly swollen glands, severe facial pain in the sinuses, and a cough that produces mucus, may indicate a complication or more serious illness that also requires a doctor's attention.3 If you have difficulty breathing, feel sudden chest or abdominal pains or are vomiting severely, go to the emergency room right away.7
Recovering from a cold
Unfortunately, there is no immediate cure for a cold.5 Most viral infections like the common cold do not have cures, and the only way to effectively get over them is to wait for your immune system to do its job in fighting off the viruses in your system. However, you can still manage a cold and take steps to potentially reduce the duration of your sickness. How long it takes to beat a cold can be affected by lifestyle choices. Getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids can aid in a speedier recovery from most symptoms.
It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when you’re sick. Water, juice, clear broth, or warm lemon water with honey can help loosen congestion and prevent dehydration.6 Sipping on hot beverages like herbal tea and chicken soup can help with congestion and can soothe your throat as well. A proven way to relieve a sore throat that comes with a cold is to try a saltwater gargle. Dissolve ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt in an 8 ounce glass of water and gargle with it to provide temporary relief for a sore throat.6 You can also try using throat lozenges or throat sprays to relieve a sore throat. Avoid giving throat lozenges to children under 6 years old, as they can be a choking hazard.6 Also, using a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer can be especially helpful for sore throats and sinus congestion that you may experience with a cold. If you’re a smoker, refraining from having a cigarette or being around secondhand smoke can help in recovery from those symptoms as well.4
Water, juice, clear broth, or warm lemon water with honey can help loosen congestion and prevent dehydration.6 Sipping on hot beverages like herbal tea and chicken soup can help with congestion and can soothe your throat as well.
Easy ways to prevent spreading a cold
- Clean your hands often with an alcohol-based sanitizer or soap and water. When washing your hands with soap, remember to scrub for at least 20 seconds to ensure that all infectious germs are off of your skin.
- Ease your symptoms with Theraflu over-the-counter cold and flu medicines
- Use household cleaning products to disinfect areas where germs may spread, such as bathroom surfaces, tables near beds and door handles, etc.3
- If you are sick with a cold, minimize contact with others until your symptoms are gone to avoid spreading it. Stay home if your symptoms are severe or if you feel too sick.
While nothing can immediately cure a cold, over-the-counter cold and flu medicines such as Theraflu can ease your severe symptoms and help you get back on your feet. Symptom relief, especially at night, can help you rest easier and in turn aid in recovery. If symptoms persist, consult with your doctor to find the best treatment for you.
1. Vorvick, L. J., MD. (2015, January 31). Common Cold. Retrieved September 19, 2016, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000678.htm
2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2014, April 23). Common Colds: Overview. Retrieved September 19, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072727/
3. Villanova University. (n.d.). About The Common Cold. Retrieved September 19, 2016, from https://www1.villanova.edu/villanova/studentlife/health/promotion/goto/resources/illnesses.html
4. Symptom Relief. (2015, April 17). Retrieved September 19, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/for-patients/symptom-relief.html
5. Common Cold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/dotw/common-cold/index.html Accessed 05/27/2021.
6. Cold remedies: What works, what doesn’t, what can’t hurt. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/in-depth/cold-remedies/art-20046403 Accessed 05/27/2021.
7. How to treat the common cold at home. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000466.htm Accessed 05/27/2021.