How Long Does a Cold Last?

Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2021
how do you get rid of a cold overnight?
Most often, a common cold lasts anywhere from 5 to 10 days in length.

A common cold typically lasts for anywhere between 5 and 10 days.

The most common virus that causes it is the rhinovirus. This can present with either nasal congestion or a runny nose.

You may experience other associated symptoms, such as:

How is a common cold diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical examination to check if you have:

Your doctor may order tests, including:

  • Blood tests if you have a fever or if they suspect an allergy or other medical condition causing the symptoms of cold
  • Nasal swab to test for the flu virus
  • Chest X-rays rule out lung infections, such as pneumonia

How to differentiate between a common cold and COVID-19

The common cold is so prevalent that most adults get it at least two times a year, whereas children typically get it three to four times a year. It rarely causes complications or turns life-threatening.

COVID-19 is caused by the novel coronavirus and has a greater tendency to cause pneumonia and other complications. Therefore, COVID-19 can become a life-threatening condition.

Some early symptoms found in COVID-19 are not as frequently found in the common cold, such as:

How to treat a common cold

Most often, your common cold is self-limiting and needs just a few, simple measures to get rid of it or ease your symptoms. These measures include:

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking enough water and staying hydrated
  • Having warm soups, such as chicken soups
  • Steam inhalation if you have nasal congestion
  • Using room humidifiers in case of a stuffy nose

There are plenty of over-the-counter syrups and pills that are easily and widely available everywhere. The most common ingredients in them include:

  • Decongestants: If you have a stuffy nose, you can try
    • Pseudoephedrine
    • Phenylephrine
  • Antihistamines: If you suffer from sneezing and a watery nose, options include
  • Cough suppressants: If you have a cough too, you may take
  • Pain relievers: For fever and headaches, you can resort to

While these medications are effective and safe for you, they might not be safe for young children. Ask your doctor before you administer any cold medication to your kids.

How to prevent the cold from spreading

The most important factor that helps reduce the spread of cold is to practice good hygiene in all seasons, particularly during flu season. Here is what you should do.

  • Cover your mouth and nose
    • Your saliva and mucus are the main sources of transmission of the virus from your infected body to a healthy person around you.
    • So, remember to always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue whenever you cough or sneeze.
    • In the absence of tissue, you can use the inside of your elbow to cover your mouth and nose during coughing or sneezing.
  • Get rid of used tissues
    • Have a habit of discarding the tissue immediately after using it.
    • Use a new tissue every time you sneeze or cough and clean your hands with handwash or apply sanitizer.
  • Maintain hand hygiene
    • Every time you come in contact with your body fluids, wash your hands with soap or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
    • Sanitize your hands before and after touching doorknobs, handles, and telephones.
    • Avoid direct contact with people and maintain a safe distance from them.
  • Avoid venturing out
    • Prefer staying at home by taking leave from the office or school.
    • If you cannot afford to avoid venturing out, try to maintain a six feet distance from people around you.


Which illness is known as a viral upper respiratory tract infection? See Answer
Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

Buensalido JAL. Rhinovirus (RV) Infection (Common Cold). Medscape.