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Here's How Long Your Cold Should Last

It's longer than you think.

Like death, taxes and reboots of 80's sitcoms movies, colds are a totally normal, unavoidable part of life. The bigger concern is, how long should one last—and when should you worry?

According to the CDC, adults have an average of two to three colds every year. Children get sick with colds even more. While most colds are nothing to worry about and will go away on their own, if your illness is persistent and you don't start feeling better after a certain amount of time, something worse may be wrong.

According to the CDC, the average cold will go away between seven to ten days. However, Richard Martinello, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease expert, explains that most people underestimate the duration of the average cold. "Colds can last much longer than we usually think—it is not unusual for the runny nose to last a week or even longer," he tells Eat This, Not That! Health. He points to an experimental study where participants were experimentally made sick with rhinovirus (a common virus which is a frequent cause of colds). "The cough lasted over 2 weeks for about 25 percent," he says. 

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How to Get Rid of a Cold

As most people are aware, there is no cure for the common cold. All you can really do is rest as much as possible and drink plenty of fluids—and let your body do the work. 

The typical cold symptoms involve a runny nose, sore throat and sometimes a dry, non-productive cough. It's important to note that colds are typically not associated with fevers. "A temperature of no more than 100.5 F is unusual for a cold," Dr. Martinello points out. Colds may be accompanied by headaches, but the headache is usually not the worst symptom.

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When to Be Concerned

So at what point should you be concerned about your cold? Dr. Martinello suggests calling the doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • If there is a fever greater than 100.5F. "Influenza often causes a fever," he explains. "There is medication available which can be effective to treat the flu if given early during the illness. Call the doctor's office to see if this treatment may be helpful for you/your loved one."
  • If you become confused.
  • If it is difficult to swallow because of a severe sore throat.
  • If you cannot drink or keep liquids down.
  • A cough that is getting worse, chest pain with breathing or feeling short of breath.
  • If you have had your cold for over a week and it seems to be getting worse rather than better. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.
Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah