According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most adults recover from a cold in about 7 to 10 days. Colds are a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract, which include your nose and throat. Head colds, like the common cold, are different from chest colds, which can affect your lower airways and lungs and can involve chest congestion and coughing up mucus.

Coming down with a cold can sap your energy and make you feel downright miserable. Having a sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, and a cough can really get in the way of going about your daily life.

This article will take a closer look at the typical symptoms of a cold for both adults and children, what you can do to ease your symptoms, and how to prevent a cold in the first place.

Cold duration for adults vs. children

Typically, for most adults, the symptoms of a cold last for around 7 to 10 days. The duration of a cold can be longer in children — up to 2 weeks. On average, children get more colds in a year than adults. In fact, while an average adult may experience two to four colds in a year, children may have between six and eight.

What to know about cold symptoms

Typically, a common cold includes three different phases, each with slightly different symptoms.

1. Early symptoms

The symptoms of a cold can begin as soon as 10 to 12 hoursTrusted Source after you’ve contracted the virus. You may notice that your throat feels scratchy or sore and that you have less energy than normal. These symptoms typically last a couple of days.

2. Peak symptoms

About 2 to 3 daysTrusted Source after you first started feeling under the weather, your symptoms will likely be at their worst. In addition to a sore, scratchy throat and fatigue, you may also develop the following symptoms:

3. Late symptoms

As your cold runs its course, you’ll likely still have some nasal congestion for another 3 to 5 days. During this time, you may notice that your nasal discharge has turned to a yellow or green color. This is a sign that your body has been actively fighting the infection.

Some people may also have a lingering cough or fatigue. In some cases, a cough can last for several weeks.

Cold symptoms in children

While cold symptoms are similar in children and adults, some additional symptoms in children include:

Although most children will get better within a couple weeks, you should keep an eye out for possible complications. These include:

How long does a stuffy nose last with a cold?

A stuffy nose is a common cold symptom because having a cold increases the levels of inflammatory compounds in your nose. These compounds can cause drainage and swelling in your nose, making it feel “stuffy.”

While the incubation period (the time between contracting a cold virus and when your symptoms first appear) is usually around 48 hours, some people report stuffy nose symptoms within hours after the cold virus enters their nasal passages.

The compounds that cause nasal irritation usually peak at about 48 to 72 hours after the virus first hits your nose. This is when your runny nose is likely to be at its worst, but it may still linger for several more days.

Your stuffy nose will likely clear up before typical later-stage symptoms like a cough.

You may be able to ease your nasal congestion by:

How long does a runny nose last with a cold?

A runny nose, also known as nasal drainage, is an unpleasant side effect of most colds. A runny nose is usually at its peak about 2 to 3 days after your symptoms start, but may last up to a week.

A runny nose usually starts out with clear, watery mucus. As your cold progresses, it often becomes thicker with more of a yellow or green tinge. The color change is good news. It means your immune system has kicked in and your white blood cells are fighting off the cold virus.

However, if your nasal discharge is a yellow or green color and lasts longer than 10 days, it could be a sign that a bacterial infection is causing your runny nose symptoms, and not a viral infection.

You may be able to ease your runny nose by taking an OTC antihistamine, like Benadryl, Zyrtec, or Claritin. These medications may help dry up a runny nose and also reduce sneezing.

How to treat a cold

The best way to treat a common cold is to focus on alleviating the symptoms until the infection has run its course. Since a cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics aren’t an effective treatment.

Some ways to feel better while you’re getting over a cold include taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications and basic home remedies.

Over-the-counter pain relievers

OTC pain relievers can help relieve symptoms like fever, headache, and aches and pains. Some options include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), aspirin, and acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Never give aspirin to children under age 18, as it can cause a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome. Consider looking for products specifically formulated for children, such as Children’s Motrin or Children’s Tylenol.

Other OTC medications

There are many types of OTC medications that can help relieve cold symptoms like nasal congestion, watery eyes, and cough. Consider these OTC medications:

Some cough and cold medications have caused serious side effects in young children and infants, such as slowed breathing. Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t recommendTrusted Source the use of these medications in children under 2 years old.

At-home care and remedies

There are also many self-care measures that can help ease your symptoms:

How to prevent a cold from spreading to others

The common cold is contagious. This means that it can be passed from person to person.

When you have a cold, you’re contagious from shortly before your symptoms start until they go away. However, you’re more likely to spread the virus when your symptoms are at their peak — typically during the first 2 to 3 days of having a cold.

If you’re sick, follow the pointers below to prevent spreading your cold to others:

What can you do to prevent a cold?

While it’s not always possible to avoid catching a cold, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of picking up a cold virus.

Prevention tips

When to see a doctor

Most colds symptoms typically get better within a week or two. Generally speaking, you should see a doctor if symptoms last longer than 10 days without improvement.

There are also some other symptoms to watch out for. Follow up with your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms:

In adults

In children

The bottom line

In adults, the common cold typically clears up in about 7 to 10 days. Children may take slightly longer to recover — up to 14 days.

There’s no cure for the common cold. Instead, treatment focuses on symptom relief. You can do this by drinking plenty of fluids, getting enough rest, and taking OTC medications where appropriate.

While colds are typically mild, be sure to see your doctor if your symptoms, or your child’s symptoms, are severe, don’t improve within 10 days, or continue to get worse.

 By Jill Seladi-Schulman, Ph.D

Source: Healthline Media

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