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How Long Does a Cold Last?

How Long Does a Cold Last?

An upper respiratory infection (URI), also known as the common cold, is caused by a virus that inflames the membranes in the lining of the nose and throat. There are more than 200 different viruses that can result in a cold.

The normal course of a viral upper respiratory infection is 7 to 10 days.

Days 1 & 2: Sore or scratchy throat
When you wake up with a sore or scratchy throat, its official – you’ve got a cold. Throat irritation can last 24 – 48 hours.

Symptom Relief: Gargle with warm salt water and keep your head raised on a pillow when you lie down – this helps keep postnasal drip from irritating your throat.

Day 3: Runny nose, sneezing, congestion with headache, tired
This is when you will feel the worst, especially in the early morning and late evening. These symptoms are your body’s way of telling you to rest.

Symptom Relief: Alka Seltzer Plus Cold or NyQuil Cold & Flu are great options because they have an antihistamine and a decongestant. Most other medications contain either the antihistamine or decongestant, but not a combination of the two.

Days 4 & 5: Cough
You could develop a cough around day four or five that can last anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks.

Symptom Relief: Dextromethorphan is the most common cough suppressant – examples include Robitussin DM, Mucinex DM, and Delsym. Cough drops

Other Over-the-Counter Medications
Some nasal drops or sprays contain oxymetazoline (Afrin, Neosynephrine Nighttime, and generic store brands). These are very effective for the first few days, especially for congestion. They cannot be used for longer than 3 days though.

Why Antibiotics are Harmful

  • Most sinus problems are caused by viruses or allergies, not bacteria. Antibiotics kill bacteria. Antibiotics do not kill viruses or help with allergy symptoms.
  • Even when bacteria cause sinus problems, they usually get better in a week or so without drugs.
  • There is no potential benefit to using antibiotics to treat a cold, and only the potential to harm yourself through adverse drug affects and reactions.

When Should You Use Antibiotics?

  • When your symptoms last longer than 10 days.
  • When symptoms start to get better – toward the end of 7 days – but then get worse again.
  • When your symptoms are very severe.