- What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
- How can I prevent a cold?
- (Sneeze) Is That a Cold or the Flu?
- Cold and Flu Prevention
- Cough and sneeze etiquette
- Introduction to cough and sneeze etiquette
- Why is cough and sneeze etiquette important?
- Get on top of your general health
- How to practise good cough and sneeze etiquette
- What exactly is a cold?
- How are colds spread?
- How long does a cold last?
- What to watch out for
- The cure for the common cold
- How long should you stay away when you have a cold or the flu?
- Early Signs of a Cold: What You Can Do
- What are the early warning signs of a cold?
- Do you have a sore throat and a fever?
- What can you do about your cold?
- Do any home remedies for colds work?
- Still can’t get rid of your cold?
- What are the common cold stages and symptoms?
- How long are you contagious?
- Do I need antibiotics?
- When should I see a doctor?
- How do I treat a cold?
- Stages of The Common Cold
- Common cold vs flu symptoms
- How long should a cold last?
- Stages of a cold
- The Best Cold and Flu Medicines
- How long should a cold last before you go to the doctor?
- Do cold symptoms get worse at night?
- How to prevent a cold
What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
Although colds and flus are often confused, they are actually quite different. The flu is caused by very different virus types than the ones that cause the common cold. This is why a diagnosed cold caused specifically by a cold virus cannot “morph” into the flu. What’s more, flu symptoms tend to be worse than cold symptoms, and they come on suddenly (cold symptoms tend to arrive gradually). When you’re hit with the flu, you know it. You can expect to be faced with a fever, chills, and aching muscles and joints. Colds, on the other hand, are usually associated with a sore throat and runny nose. Colds are much more common than the flu.
How can I prevent a cold?
The best way to prevent a cold is to avoid touching your face. The reason? Cold viruses travel through small liquid drops when someone with a cold sneezes or coughs. These particles can land on surfaces like doorknobs and computer keyboards and spread to your hands when you touch them. If you then touch your face, the virus has a good chance of entering your eyes, nose or mouth. You should also avoid sharing drinking cups or tissues with anyone who has a cold. It’s also a good idea to frequently wash your hands with soap and water to keep from catching a cold. Scrub them for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
(Sneeze) Is That a Cold or the Flu?
Cold and Flu Prevention
As with any condition the best treatment is prevention. A person with the Flu can expose the virus to other people as far as 6 feet away through droplets spread when they talk, sneeze or cough. If you happen to inhale these droplets or they land on your nose or mouth you are now infected.
Strengthen Your Immune System – Practice healthy living habits like exercising, getting a good night of sleep, staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and managing stress. All these habits will help strengthen your immune system naturally and can help you ward off not just a cold or flu but other diseases as well.
Hygiene – If you notice a co-worker or acquaintance appears to be sick, try to keep your distance. Don’t get unnecessarily close. Touching commonly used and contaminated surfaces like doorknobs or handles, keyboards or other digital devices, countertops, etc. can transfer the virus to your hands. Avoid touching your nose or mouth and wash your hands regularly with soap and water several times per day.
If you are sick, be considerate and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette by using a tissue to cover your mouth and nose and throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. Don’t forget to wash your hands after. Consider using a face mask if you must be out in public and your symptoms include frequent coughing or sneezing.
Flu Shot – Each year, medical experts apply research regarding the most common strains to create a new vaccine for the year. Healthcare providers recommend getting a flu shot early in the season to prevent catching the flu. Getting your flu shot ahead of time will give your body time to strengthen its immune system against influenza.
Cough and sneeze etiquette
- Introduction to cough and sneeze etiquette
- Why is cough and sneeze etiquette important?
- How to practise good cough and sneeze etiquette
Introduction to cough and sneeze etiquette
Cough and sneeze etiquette refers to simple hygiene practices everybody can take to prevent passing on respiratory infections like cold and flu to other people.
It is especially important that people who are sick with cold or flu practise good cough and sneeze etiquette. However, infections like cold and flu can be transmitted even before symptoms like sore throat and cough let you know you’re sick. So even when you’re perfectly healthy, it’s important to practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
Why is cough and sneeze etiquette important?
When someone with a cold or flu infection coughs or sneezes, they release respiratory droplets. These droplets contain cold and flu virus particles that can cause infection if they enter another person’s respiratory tract (e.g. when they come into contact with their nose).
The droplets released during coughing and sneezing may be inhaled, or they may land on a person’s hands or hard surfaces where the virus particles can survive for hours. If a person touches contaminated surfaces, the virus particles may be transferred to their hands. If a person touches their face with contaminated hands, it may cause infection.
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How to practise good cough and sneeze etiquette
Good cough and sneeze etiquette involves taking steps to minimise the likelihood that someone else will catch your cold or flu when you cough or sneeze. There are many simple measures you can take.
Cover coughs and sneezes
- Cover your mouth and nose every time you cough or sneeze. Use a disposable tissue to cover your mouth or nose if possible.
- If a cough or sneeze sneaks up on you and no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve. This prevents your hands becoming contaminated with cold or flu viruses.
Dispose of or clean contaminated products immediately
- Dispose of single-use tissues immediately after you cough or sneeze. Try to ensure a waste bin is available so that tissues can be disposed of (e.g. if you’re in bed with the flu, put a bin beside your bed so you don’t have to get up to throw your contaminated tissues away). If there is no bin, use a plastic bag to store contaminated tissues until a bin is available.
- If you cough or sneeze onto a hard surface like a desk or telephone, clean it immediately with a disposable disinfectant wipe to remove the cold and flu germs.
Ensure your hands are hygienically cleaned
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15–20 seconds every time you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands every time you touch a contaminated object like a tissue.
- If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitising products containing ≥ 60% alcohol. These products are also effective in removing cold and flu germs from contaminated hands.
Avoid touching the face
- Avoid touching your face with your hands (especially if you know they’re contaminated, for example if you’ve just wiped your sick child’s nose). Touching the face allows cold and flu viruses to enter the mucous membranes of the nose and eyes and cause infection.
Avoid close contact with others
- Stay away from work, school and other busy places as much as possible when you have an illness like cold or flu which causes coughing and sneezing.
- If you need to go to work or other busy places, avoid close contact with others, for example by not shaking hands and standing at least one metre away.
|For more information on the common cold and influenza, types of influenza and treatments and tips for preventing influenza, see Cold and Flu.|
What exactly is a cold?
The common cold is caused by a virus. In fact, there may be as many as 200 viruses that cause common cold symptoms, with rhinovirus being the most common, according to Megha Tewari, MD, a family practice and geriatrics physician with Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Common colds are the main reason your kids miss school and you miss work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) reports that millions of people get the common cold every year in this country, with adults averaging two to three per year. Children average even more than that, and children under the age of six are especially susceptible. (These everyday mistakes will raise your risk of catching a cold.)
How are colds spread?
Forget what your mom said about catching a cold from going outside with wet hair—it’s not true. Dr. Tewari explains that cold viruses spread through the air, through bodily fluids, and from touching surfaces on which virus particles have settled. That said, your mom wasn’t completely wrong: Weather or temperature changes and being inappropriately dressed for the cold weather stresses the body’s immune system, rendering you less capable of fighting off a cold virus. “Any kind of stress can make you more susceptible to catching a cold,” Dr. Tewari points out. (Find out the surprising ways your body responds to the common cold.)
How long does a cold last?
Most people fully recover within seven to 10 days, but Dr. Tewari breaks down the length based on your symptoms:
- sore throat: usually runs its course within the first day or so
- mild headache: usually resolves within a few days
- mild body ache: usually resolves within a few days
- low-grade fever: usually resolves within a few days
- fatigue: may linger for the first week to 10 days
- nasal congestion: may continue for one to two weeks
- coughing: may continue for one to two weeks
If you’re a smoker or exposed to second-hand smoke, your cold symptoms could last even longer. In addition, people with weakened immune systems, asthma, or conditions that affect the lungs and breathing passages may develop more serious conditions in addition to the cold (such as pneumonia and bronchitis). And this is what it could mean if your cold is lingering.
What to watch out for
The discharge from your nose may become thicker and yellow or green in color as a common cold runs its course, but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm. However, you should see your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- a temperature higher than 100.4° F
- symptoms that last more than 10 days
- symptoms that are severe or unusual
The cure for the common cold
Sorry, there’s still no cure. Antibiotics won’t make it better, and there’s no vaccine. All you can really do, according to Dr. Tewari, is to rest and hydrate, and once your immediate symptoms pass, she says, you should be able to return to work. Don’t miss these rules for calling in sick to the office.
To protect yourself from getting a cold in the first place, keep your hands clean and away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, and steer clear of people who seem like they have colds. To protect others from getting your cold, stay home for as long as you can while you’re symptomatic, and make sure to use proper etiquette while sneezing—blow into a tissue, or your elbow, not your hand!
Here are the steps doctors take to avoid catching a cold.
How long should you stay away when you have a cold or the flu?
Symptoms of the flu generally develop more quickly and are more severe than the common cold. Credit: txking/
Most adults get around two to three colds a year, and children get even more. In terms of the flu, there are around 3-5 million severe cases of influenza worldwide each year and 290,000 to 650,000 deaths.
The symptoms of a cold and the flu are similar, so it’s hard to tell the difference. But the flu is usually more severe and develops more quickly than a cold.
Colds and flus can be easily passed from person to person through the air, when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and touch, when a person touches an infected surface or object like doorknobs and light switches.
So what’s the difference between colds and flus, and how long should you stay away?
Cold symptoms include a sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, tiredness and headache.
Most people become contagious with cold symptoms one to two days after exposure to a cold virus. These symptoms usually peak two to four days later. The common cold usually lasts about ten days.
There is nothing you can take to shorten the duration of a cold, and most people will get better without needing to see a doctor. But some over-the-counter medications can help alleviate the symptoms. These include anti-inflammatories (to reduce inflammation or swelling), analgesics (to reduce pain), antipyretics (to reduce fever) and decongestants (to relieve nasal congestion).
But be careful you follow the instructions and recommended dosage for these medications. A recent study of US adults who used paracetamol, the active ingredient in many cold and flu medicines, found 6.3% of users exceeded the maximum recommended daily dose. This mostly occurred during the cold and flu season.
Natural products such as vitamin C and echinacea are sometimes recommended to prevent and treat a cold, but there is limited evidence to support their effectiveness.
Common symptoms of the flu include fever (a temperature of 38°C or higher), cough, chills, sore throat, headache, runny or stuffy nose, tiredness and muscle aches.
An infected person can spread the flu for five to seven days after becoming infected. The infectious period can begin 24 hours before the onset of symptoms. This means you can spread the flu without even knowing you’re sick.
Influenza viruses can cause mild to severe illness in people of all ages. Most people will fully recover within one to two weeks and won’t require any medical attention. Similar to a cold, people can take some over-the-counter medications and other remedies to help alleviate symptoms.
But some people can become acutely unwell with the flu. They may require antiviral medication and, in severe cases, hospitalisation. Those at high risk include pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, diabetes and heart and lung diseases.
The flu virus strains that circulate usually change every year, so the best way to prevent getting the flu is to get the annual flu vaccine. The vaccine is moderately effective and recommended for adults and children over the age of six months. Some common side effects may occur, such as temporary soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site, fever, headache, muscle aches and nausea.
Avoid passing it on
If you feel unwell, stay home from work or school and rest (and get plenty of fluids) until you feel better. If you’ve had a fever, stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever has broken.
When you go back to work or school, you may still be infectious, so avoid passing the virus on by:
- regularly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and drying them properly – if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- practising good cough and sneeze etiquette: cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your upper shirtsleeve when you cough or sneeze, and throw away used tissues immediately
- not touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- frequently cleaning the surfaces and objects you’ve touched.
How to fight the flu this season Provided by The Conversation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Citation: How long should you stay away when you have a cold or the flu? (2018, July 23) retrieved 2 February 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-07-cold-flu.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
Early Signs of a Cold: What You Can Do
Did you know that the average person can spend up to five years of their life laid low by the common cold?
Colds remain one of the leading causes of absence among UK workers, responsible for many spoilt weekends and holidays – but it doesn’t have to be that way. With enough warning, you can watch out for the warning signs of a cold and, hopefully, stop it in its tracks.
What are the early warning signs of a cold?
One of the main differences between a cold and the more severe flu virus is that with a cold, your symptoms arrive gradually, while flu symptoms arrive suddenly, leaving sufferers little time to prepare.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, it could be a sign that a cold is on the way:
- Sore Throat – This is one of the most common early symptoms of a viral infection.
- Runny Nose – You will start to notice mucus building up in your nose. This will start off fairly thin and watery, but as your cold progresses it can get thicker, so make sure you keep a pack of tissues handy.
- Coughs and Sneezes – This is your body’s way of trying to get rid of anything that can damage your airways, such as dust, pollen or – in this case – viruses.
- Headache – As mucus begins to build up, it clogs your sinuses and creates pressure that leads to a dull, throbbing headache.
- Tiredness – Feeling weak and tired is a symptom of most viruses. If you’ve not got your usual energy, it could be a sign that your cold is about to make a grand entrance.
Once these symptoms start to appear, your cold is already underway – all you can do is manage your symptoms.
Do you have a sore throat and a fever?
If you’re suffering from a sore throat as well as a fever, you might have more than a cold. Experiencing both of these symptoms might be an indicator of an infection like tonsillitis. Speak to a doctor to be sure of what you are facing, and let their advice recommend an appropriate treatment path.
What can you do about your cold?
There are steps you can take to deal with the worst of your cold and, according to some studies, shorten your recovery time.
Water helps your immune system fight off any infection, so it’s important to stay hydrated as soon as you suspect a cold. Drinking plenty of water will help you replace fluids lost when blowing your nose or sweating, while also loosening mucus building up at the back of the throat.
In a similar vein, inhaling steam can be an effective way of clearing your airways – especially when it is mixed with a splash of eucalyptus or over-the-counter decongestant.
Avoid comfort food
When not feeling your best, it is all too tempting to turn to your favourite comfort foods – particularly when we consider the widespread belief that you should “feed a cold”. In actuality, doing so might make your symptoms worse.
High-fat diets have been shown to slow down the immune system’s response to infection, which will make it harder to fight off infections such as a cold. You need the nutrients provided by a balanced diet to help your recovery.
Take time to rest
Resting is one of the best ways to help your body shake off a cold.
As tiredness is a symptom of a cold, going about your usual routine is only going to make this worse. In a 2009 study, of 153 male and female participants, those that regularly got less than seven hours of sleep were nearly three times more likely to contract a cold than those that slept eight hours or more each night.
This is a particularly prescient finding when we consider that our own Digital Health Report revealed that 88 per cent of British workers were reluctant to take time off work if they had an illness. For the sake of your chances of getting better, and your colleagues chances of not catching your cold, stay at home.
Do any home remedies for colds work?
The efficacy of home remedies is generally entirely anecdotal, so we looked for hard evidence to back up (or not, in some cases) each option.
Tried these remedies and still feel unwell? See a doctor today
Can I prevent a cold with garlic?
A 2001 study tested 146 volunteers, half of whom were given a daily garlic supplement and half received a placebo. The garlic group suffered just 24 colds over a 12-week period and endured 111 days of ill health due to viruses, while the placebo group reported 65 colds and 366 days of illness.
While it is tempting to conclude from this that garlic is an effective option for preventing the common cold, a 2014 review of the study argued that because the 2001 study used an invented five-point scale to differentiate between degrees of cold symptomology, it reduces our ability to generalise the study’s findings to other situations. They argue that, in fact, the scale may have been invented to increase the likelihood of the study returning significant results – because in actual fact, the authors argued, that cold symptoms are generally binary, either “full” or not present at all.
Will chicken soup help with a cold?
While chicken soup is the most commonly-cited cold cure – with some scientific evidence to back it up – any broth-based soup will help you feel better. For one, it will warm you up, and we have already discussed how beneficial water and steam can be in alleviating your symptoms.
It is important to choose the right soup for the job, however. Avoid creamy soups, as these are higher in fat (which, as mentioned above, hampers your immune system), and consider including some vegetables in your broth to get even more nutrients and speed up your recovery.
Is spicy food good for a cold?
The chemical that gives chilli peppers their spice is called capsaicin – a fairly common medicinal treatment, usually found in anti-inflammatory medication. That’s not the only benefit to spicy food in relation to a cold, however – our nutritionist has explored the impact of spicy food on the body at length in the past.
Long story short, If you’re coming down with a cold, chilli peppers can ease congestion and reduce swelling around your nose and throat. It’ll also help make your mucus thin enough for your body to cough or sneeze it away.
Why is honey and lemon good for a sore throat?
Though honey and lemon doesn’t speed up recovery, it will handily relieve the symptoms of a sore throat – having been consistently shown to outperform over-the-counter medication (plus, these options typically have surprisingly high sugar contents).
Our honey, lemon and ginger tea recipe is packed full of natural ingredients, too. What have you got to lose trying it for yourself?
Talk to a doctor about your sore throat
Still can’t get rid of your cold?
Most colds will go away in around 7-10 days. If your symptoms last longer than this or you’re feeling particularly ill, see a doctor sooner rather than later.
Our GPs can see you at a time to suit you, seven days a week. It can be during your lunch break or even in the evening, so there’s no interruption to your day.
We all know the feeling: a tickle in the throat, a sniffle, a cough. Oh no. Not again. Yep, it’s a cold.
The symptoms and duration of a cold might seem unpredictable, but the common cold typically comes on in particular stages on a timeline. We’ll outline the stages below and answer questions you might have about colds, such as how long you or your child is contagious and when to see a medical provider.
A cold is a virus that infects the upper respiratory tract (nose, sinuses, voice box, and throat). More than 200 different viruses can cause a cold, but the rhinovirus is the most common culprit.
Colds are spread when you breathe in a virus that has been coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person or have close personal contact with an infected person. They can also be spread by shaking hands with an infected person or touching an infected surface and then putting that hand to your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Colds are more common in the fall and winter, but you can get them any time of year. Each year, adults have an average of 2 to 3 colds, and children have even more.
What are the common cold stages and symptoms?
Colds and cold symptoms tend to follow a certain progression, which is outlined below. This is the typical pattern, but it’s possible that you’ll experience the timing and stages slightly differently.
- Incubation stage: After you’re exposed to a cold virus, it typically takes 1 to 3 days for you to develop symptoms. It’s possible to develop symptoms as soon as 10 to 12 hours after exposure.
- Symptoms begin and peak: Cold symptoms peak at 1 to 3 days. The main symptoms include sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose, cough, discomfort, sneezing, fever (more common in children), headaches, clear, watery discharge from your nose (mucus), and body aches.
- Symptoms level off and fade: Cold symptoms usually last anywhere from 3 to 10 days. After 2 or 3 days, the mucus discharged from your nose may change to a white, yellow, or green color. This is normal and does not mean you need an antibiotic.
- 10 days and beyond: Lingering symptoms can last up to 2 weeks in some people, especially runny nose, stuffy nose, and coughing. However, you should be on the mend at this point, and the symptoms probably won’t be as bad.
How long are you contagious?
You’re generally contagious a few days before your symptoms start, and you may be contagious for as long as you have symptoms. You’re most likely to spread the virus in the first 2 to 3 days when the symptoms peak.
If you’re sick, stay home from work or school. If your child is sick, keep them out of daycare or school. Avoid close contact with others, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
Do I need antibiotics?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an antibiotic will not get rid of a cold. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections, acne, and strep throat. Colds are caused by viruses, so antibiotics won’t work on them.
Antibiotics can also cause side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, skin rashes, and yeast infection in women. They can also put you at risk for antibiotic-resistant infections.
When should I see a doctor?
There’s no cure for a cold. Most often, it will go away on its own within 2 weeks. You should only see a healthcare provider if:
- Your symptoms don’t get better in 10 days
- Your symptoms are severe or unusual (a fever that lasts longer than 4 days, dehydration, difficulty breathing, symptoms that go away and come back or get worse)
- Your child who is younger than 3 months old has a fever or is lethargic
How do I treat a cold?
Here are some ways to ease the symptoms of a cold:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink lots of fluids
- Use a humidifier or vaporizer
- Use saline nasal spray (for adults) or drops (for children)
- Suck on cough drops and throat lozenges
- Use honey to relieve coughs in adults and children at least 1 year of age or older
Over-the-counter products that can help with symptoms include:
Talk to your provider about which medications are most appropriate for you. Some people may not be able to use these products because of other medications they are taking, health conditions, and other symptoms, such as high fever or chest pain. Some of these medications also may not be appropriate for children.
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We are all familiar with the stages of catching a cold: paranoia, denial, anger & blame, wallowing in reluctant acceptance, and finally blessed relief. But, you know, scientifically, it’s a little different. Knowledge is power, of course, and although science is so far powerless to completely cure the common cold (we’re working on it!), knowing of the stages that the virus goes through can actually help you identify where you are and the best treatment and course of action to help you #GetWellFast. Keep in mind, there is some variation among sources regarding what the specific stages are, but here is an approximation that will certainly help! Ready? Let’s Go.
Stages of The Common Cold
Stage 1: Incubation Period (Days 1-4)
So you caught a virus. Inconvenient, painful, profoundly irritating, yet largely unavoidable at least a few times a year. It’s very likely a rhinovirus, but it could also be another 200 other kinds of viruses. The germs will usually get trapped inside your nasal passages, throat, or upper airway. It’ll attach itself to what are called Intercellular Adhesion Molecule 1 receptors (or ICAM-1 receptors, for short!) and begin to replicate (here’s a handy video describing the process!), but you probably won’t feel any symptoms for a few more days. You’re still contagious though; just one of the interesting reasons colds are so easy to spread!
Stage 2: First Signs (Days 2-5)
This is it. This is when your body starts giving you those tell-tale clues that something’s afoot. Try as we might to ignore the signs (denial is not just a river in Egypt, as they say!) this is the crucial moment where we should really pay attention. Fatigue, that throat tickle or soreness, body aches, sneezing — your body is starting to produce the antibodies to fight that virus. Now is the time to get as much rest as you possibly can, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods and, of course, start taking Cold-EEZE to try and keep this as short and mild as possible. You’re also most contagious at this point, so if you have the luxury to take a sick day, do it!
Stage 3: The Worst of It (Days 3-6)
Now you’re really in it. Symptoms start to target the nasal region more, the sneezing has likely turned into a runny nose and congestion, the mucus may have become thicker and greener (owing to the lovely neutrophils, white blood cells working overtime to overcome the virus). You might get a cough or feel like you need to clear your throat a lot, because of post-nasal drip, which will often be quite persistent and last for a while after other symptoms have gone. Steam, decongestants and plenty of rest will help!
Stage 4: Home stretch (Days 5-7)
You’ll usually start to feel better about 3 or 4 days after you started noticing the first signs (so, 5-7 days after you were first infected). If your symptoms go on for longer than that or get worse, it’s possible that you have a bacterial infection, in which case it’s a good idea to go to the doctor and get tested to see if you should take antibiotics (they only work for bacterial infections, never viral infections, like most colds!).
Stage 5: Bye-bye cold (Days 7-10)
And there you have it. The virus has now been eliminated from your body through the wonders of the immune system. The good news is that the antibodies you produced to fight the cold mean you’re immune to that specific strain of virus (yay!), but there are hundreds more out there that could still infect you (boo).
From that first tickle in your throat to the final splutter, you often overlook the stages of a cold as general grogginess and leave them untreated. Too often, you act the hero when you’re feeling severely worse for wear. So what are the common cold stages and how should you treat them?
A UK study showed that 40% of people who visited their GP for a cold went within 1-6 days. The recommended time to seek medical advice is 10 days plus. So how long do the stages of a cold last—and when should you seek medical advice?
WH asked pharmacist Raj Patel what you should expect during the stages of a cold and exactly how to minimise the common cold stages, day by day.
There are no symptoms to warn you’ve been infected. Watch this space…
Common cold vs flu symptoms
So you think you feel those groggy cold symptoms coming on but can’t figure out whether it’s a cold or the full blown flu? Watch out for the following symptoms:
- High fever: You have a high temperature above 39°C that does not come down even if you take ibuprofen and/or paracetamol
- Effect on day to day life: You are confused or disoriented
- Pain in chest: You notice a sharp pain in your chest
- Breathing: You are experiencing difficulty in breathing
- Fluids: You cough up blood-stained phlegm (thick mucus)
- Swollen glands: You notice a swelling of the glands in your neck and/or armpits
- Sore muscles: Everything starts to ache
- Loss of appetite: You won’t fancy eating or drinking much
- Duration: Your symptoms last longer than 3 weeks
How long should a cold last?
There’s not one answer for this as everyone is unique, however, there is a common thread between symptoms and how long they last. Want to know how many days a cold should last? These common cold stages should help you work out where you are in the life cycle of your cold.
Stages of a cold
Days one to two and you don’t even think to Google ‘Common Cold stages’ as you feel absolutely fine. In the first few days of a common cold, there are no symptoms to warn you’ve been infected. But the progression of a cold day by day is coming…
Come days two and three, you’ll start to feel a bit tired and sneezy, your body may ache and you’ll likely have an odd tickle or soreness in your throat that you just can’t shift. Progression of a cold can be quick and if you’re experiencing these symptoms, it looks like you’ve got the bug (literally). Get straight into bed to try to try to prevent your symptoms progressing onto the next stage… Tea and toast for one.
Eating dinner? Stop reading now. Days three to four are the part where you’re bunged up and your nose is running like a tap – it’s not nice as the colour changes from clear to thick greenish yellow. Nice. Whilst progression of a cold day by day is hard to pinpoint, Patel advises trying an over-the-counter decongestant to help open up your blocked airways. Warm steam inhalation (like in a hot shower or a good old Vicks VapoRub) can also ease nasal congestion. It can feel like it’ll never break through but clearing your airways can ultimately help prevent a sinus infection.
Common cold symptoms mean that, because of your snotty situation, come days four to six you may also develop a mild cough. Due to inflammation around the airways, the cough may persist after your other symptoms are long gone. Annoying, but don’t worry because by this stage, your cold should be on its way out.
Day seven and it might just be time to call off that doctors appointment. Common colds usually last around 7-10 days with most cold sufferers getting better with rest and over-the-counter remedies, says Mr Patel.
The good news? Around two weeks after the infection you will start to produce antibodies that prevent you from catching that particular cold virus again.
The bad news? According to research on behalf of the Treat Yourself Better Without Antibiotics campaign, there are around another 199 strains of cold virus, so you can pick up another one that you haven’t had yet – and that could happen straight away—so keep the life cycle of a cold in mind, just in case.
The Best Cold and Flu Medicines
Otrivine Adult Measured Dose Sinusitis Spray 10ml lloydspharmacy.com £4.19 Strepsils Sore Throat and Cough Lozenges – 24 Lozenges lloydspharmacy.com £4.29 Lemsip Max All In One Cold & Flu Capsules 16 Capsules lloydspharmacy.com £5.45 Vicks Mentholated Rub 50g lloydspharmacy.com £3.09
How long should a cold last before you go to the doctor?
If you find yourself googling ‘can a cold last three weeks?’ it might be time to book that GP appointment after all. There are lots of reasons why your cold might be clinging on for longer, including:
- You’re not getting enough rest
- Not drinking enough water
Your doctor will able to advise you on the best medications to take for a cold, and check that your illness isn’t down to something else.
Do cold symptoms get worse at night?
If you feel like your cold gets worse at night, you’re not imagining it. A common cold can make it difficult to sleep. If you’re bunged up and congested, prop your head up with a few more pillows. This will help any mucus drain, preventing a build-up in the back of your throat or in your sinuses.
How to prevent a cold
NHS advises that there are ways that you can prevent a cold. These include:
- Regularly washing your hands
- Do not reuse tissues after you’ve used them
- Bin all used tissues straight away
- Eat well & exercise
- Avoiding touching your nose or eyes
- Do not share towels or household items (like cups) with someone who has a cold
Still feeling bunged up? Read our guide to how to get rid of a cold (hey, who knew air purifying plants might just help).
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