How long a cold typically lasts and when you should see a doctor
coldshould last about 7 to 10 days, and it usually isn't serious enough to warrant a doctor's visit.
- However, you should see a doctor if your cold symptoms become more severe after 10 days.
- Here's a timeline of what you can expect each day while you have a cold.
- This article was reviewed by Rod Oskouian, MD, at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute.
Symptoms of the common cold typically last between seven to 10 days for adults and between one to two weeks in children. That's how long it takes your body to fight the cold
If you or a loved one has a common cold, here's what to expect over the next week, or so, and what you can do to feel better in the meantime.
How long does a cold last in adults?
Whether you inhaled infectious particles from someone's sneeze or you didn't wash your hands after touching an infected surface, you'll start to feel symptoms of a cold one to three days after exposure, according to the Mayo Clinic.
After that, you can break the common cold into several stages that describe the type and severity of symptoms to expect:
Day 1-2 of cold symptoms
Sneezing and an itchy, or sore throat, are usually the first symptoms you'll experience if you have a cold virus.
Day 3-4 of cold symptoms
As your symptoms progress, your nose will start to run and you may experience some congestion.
Day 5-7 of cold symptoms
By now the severity of your symptoms has peaked, and this is when you're likely to feel the worst. You may even run a fever or get the chills.
Day 8-10 of cold symptoms
A cough is a sign that your cold is wrapping up. You may still feel congested and fatigued for the final days of illness, but you're nearing the end of misery.
It's important to note this is a typical timeline of what you might undergo, but not everyone experiences a cold in the same way.
"Different people tend to have different susceptibilities; some tend to develop more symptoms in sinuses, lungs, or ears," says Timothy Laird, MD, a family physician. "Groups with weaker immune systems — children, pregnant women, and the elderly — can have more severe symptoms and potentially longer courses.
When to see a doctor
You should be able to kick the cold virus on your own. However, see a doctor if symptoms get worse or change to something more severe after 10 days. For example, uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea, or shortness of breath are signs that you should seek medical care.
Laird also warns of more serious infections, such as influenza and pneumonia, which have similar symptoms and can be mistaken for a cold.
How long does a cold last in children?
Children are more susceptible to the common cold, and experience more than double the number as adults, each year, largely because they spend a lot of time around other children and don't always practice good hygiene.
But the symptoms your child may experience will usually depend on their age.
The cold typically lasts for 10-14 days in babies less than one-year-old. Common symptoms include:
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
Toddlers ages 1 year and up will often experience common cold symptoms for seven to 10 days, but it could linger for up to 14 days. Typical symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Watery eyes
Unlike adults, there's no concrete timeline for cold symptoms in babies. Typically, within the first three days of symptom onset, the baby will develop a fever. Their symptoms will peak by day three and they'll start to feel better starting on day four.
Similar to adults, babies and children will likely develop a cough toward the end of the infection. The cough may linger for several days.
When to see a pediatrician
The Mayo Clinic recommends that if your baby is younger than 3 months old, you should call the pediatrician as soon as you recognize symptoms.
Their underdeveloped immune systems leave babies susceptible to more severe complications like ear infections, sinus infection, and pneumonia and your pediatrician can help you watch for any warning signs.
Usually, a cold will resolve on its own. However, you should take your child to the pediatrician if they experience any of the following:
- The baby has a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and is less than 2 months old or over 101 degrees Fahrenheit if they're older.
- Their cough worsens after day 10 of the illness.
- They are vomiting so much that there's a decrease in how much and often they urinate.
How to find relief from cold symptoms
There's no cure for the common cold. You simply have to wait it out.
However, there are important steps you can take to alleviate your symptoms and find relief as your body fights the infection:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Eat fruits and vegetables and avoid fatty, fried, processed meals.
- Get enough sleep.
- Adults can take an antihistamine or decongestant for relief. Children under 2 years old should not be given any cough medications.
- Adults may try a neti pot or steam therapy for congestion relief.
The bottom line
Millions of Americans come down with the cold each year. Typically, the common cold lasts between 7-10 days in adults and 7-14 days in children.
Adults will typically kick the virus on their own and won't need to see a doctor.
On the other hand, babies and toddlers are more at risk of severe complications from the cold due to their underdeveloped immune systems. So it's important to watch their condition closely and seek medical aid if their symptoms worsen after the 3-4 days.
Related stories about the common cold:
- You're probably not washing your hands long enough, and it could be making you sick
- You can't sweat out a cold, and trying to could make it harder for you to recover
- Steps you can take when you feel a cold coming on to reduce the severity of your symptoms
- When it's OK to work out with a cold and when you should stay in bed
- Vitamin C for the common cold is a myth, sort of
- To get over a cold fast, eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and calcium
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