How long does a cold last?

The average cold lasts about 5-7 days, but the total amount of time it takes to clear often depends on a few factors. Most specifically, the duration of a cold will be determined by the overall health of the person infected, which particular strain of the virus they have, and how well they are able to take care of themselves while they are sick. Getting enough rest and staying hydrated will help your immune system clean up the infection as quickly as possible. But in general, most colds are resolved by one week. 

That being said, certain symptoms tend to stick around even after the cold has subsided. Sore throat and body aches, for example, are symptoms that typically surface at the beginning of a cold and last for just a couple of days. Fever, when it does occur, will surface somewhere during the middle stages but fade after a couple of days in most cases. Nasal congestion and cough can start anytime after a sore throat and may last for up to three weeks. However, it’s important to note that having congestion that persists for two weeks doesn't mean you still have a cold, it's just a symptom that takes longer to go away. 

When it comes to getting rid of a cold quickly, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself with good sleep, lots of fluids, and nutrient-dense meals. There are also some supplements that, when taken at the onset of symptoms, have been shown to speed up recovery.

A variety of different herbal medicines have been demonstrated to reliably shorten colds. One example of an herbal supplement that helps in reducing the duration of a cold is called Umcka (Pelargonium sidoides), which is made from South African geranium. Another lesser known but effective option is Andrographis paniculata, which has been shown to reduce the severity of the infection as well. 

Keep in mind that over-the-counter medications will not speed up the timeline of a cold. Instead, medicine prescribed for colds is used primarily for symptom management. Thankfully, most colds are manageable enough that there is no reason to visit the doctor when you’re sick. Specifically, if your symptoms start to fade after five days and you’re feeling better within 10 or 14 days from the initial infection, there is no need to go to the doctor. That said, if at any point you’re experiencing atypical symptoms, like difficulty breathing or a fever of 101 degrees or more, it’s a good idea to visit the doctor to rule out any additional infections, like bacterial sinusitis, whooping cough, or pneumonia.

Lastly, it’s a kind practice to keep good hygiene when you’re sick. Cold viruses can live on contaminated surfaces for up to five or six hours, but simply touching an infected surface isn’t usually enough to get someone else—or yourself—sick. The more common method of transmission is when a contaminated hand or finger touches the sensitive areas of your face, like the mouth or eyes.