How long does a cold last

How long does a cold last?

The common cold - a timeline of symptoms 


Are you showing signs of a cold and keen to know what’s coming? Or have you been battling a cold for a while and are desperate to know if the end is in sight?

Our timeline of symptoms should help.

Day 0


The only thing you’re likely to feel during this stage is stressed.

Consistently high stress levels leave you susceptible to catching bugs as stress actually disrupts your immune system, making it work less efficiently.

Excess stress also decreases the white blood cells in your body, which are needed in abundance for fighting off viruses such as the common cold.

Days 1 – 3


Unexplained tiredness, prickly sinuses, a scratchy throat and the sudden urge to cancel all your plans for the week.

These symptoms are all too familiar for many of us, and you will probably be able to tell you have a cold coming.

Those post-work drinks in the stuffy bar with the person at the next table who couldn’t stop sneezing? Shaking hands with a colleague who has young children? Whatever led you to catch the pesky virus, you can reduce your risk next time by washing your hands frequently, trying not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth and sanitising things around you (such as your phone, laptop, desk, door handles at home etc) during cold season.

You’re contagious during this time. The cold virus is spread via droplets, which you expel when you sneeze, cough and breathe. These droplets can survive on surfaces for short periods, too, such as door handles or keypads. Your family, friends and colleagues will thank you for practicing good hand hygiene during this time.

If you can, now is the time to batch cook a healthy soup or spicy vegetable stew, to be frozen in portions. During the next stage, you will be grateful for a handy home-cooked meal.

Days 4 – 7


You’re in the grip of the virus now, and you may be experiencing full-body tiredness, sore throat, aching limbs congested sinuses, a runny nose and sneezing. You may feel weak to the point where you find it a little harder to do your usual activities such as cleaning or cooking. You might be off your food, or craving comfort food. (Time to microwave that home-made soup!)

However, you shouldn’t feel unable to leave your bed at all. If this is the case, you might have ‘flu. ‘Flu has more intense symptoms, a longer recovery time and can lead to complications such as pneumonia. Check out this article on what you need to know about colds and flu to see how they differ.

A fever is your body’s way of fighting off a virus, so don’t worry if you have a slight temperature. However, if your fever goes above 38 or 39 degrees centigrade it cold be a sign of another condition such as strep throat. Consult your doctor over the phone if you’re unsure if a fever is a cause for concern.

You might also be feeling low during days 4 – 7. This is a normal side-effect of feeling under the weather physically. Try to go easy on yourself during this time and reschedule and postpone anything you can while you focus on resting and getting better.

You’re highly contagious during this time, as you’re probably expelling droplets via sneezing and coughing. Be sure to bin used tissues, and of course, wash your hands frequently.

Days 8 – 10


You might be over the worst but you’re likely to still feel tired, achy and your sore throat and congestion are probably still there - albeit less severe than they were during days 4 – 7.

A cough might be the last symptom to disappear, and you might be stuck with a cough for a few days after your other symptoms have ended.

Any lingering symptoms such as sneezing mean you could still be contagious during this time. You might feel up to spending time in the kitchen, so make some healthy choices to get your strength back.

For tips on how to hasten your cold along, check out Ways to help with your cold.

Last updated: 29 April 2020

Sources https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5805548/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361287/

https://www.healthline.com/health/life-cycle-of-the-common-cold

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/ https://www.nhs.uk/Video/Pages/coldandflu.aspx
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