The life cycle of the common cold: how long does it last?

The common cold, also known as upper respiratory infection (URI), is not caused by a single virus. Instead, hundreds of different viruses can be the underlying cause of your symptoms.

The most common viruses are called rhinoviruses. Other common culprits are respiratory syncytial virus, human parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, common human coronavirus, and human metapneumovirus.

You get a cold when you are in contact with an infected person and they cough or sneeze on you. You can also get infected if an infected person coughs or sneezes on a surface. Then you may touch the surface and inadvertently touch your eyes or mouth.

Some cold viruses can even be spread through feces if an infected person doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Most adults catch a few colds each year, while younger children are more likely to catch the common cold.

No matter which virus is causing your cold, it produces a very common set of symptoms.​​​ These include congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and occasional fever.

Cold life cycle

The average cold lasts seven to ten days. It’s worth noting, however, how long it takes you to recover and the exact course of a cold depends on several factors. These include the health of your immune system, the cold virus you have, and how to take care of yourself when you are sick.

incubation period

The incubation period is the time between when you contract the virus and when your first symptoms appear. For most cold viruses, especially rhinoviruses, this period is short.

When symptoms appear depends in part on the specific virus that causes the cold. Rhinovirus symptoms can appear within 12 to 72 hours of infection, but usually appear within 24 to 48 hours. Some other viruses take longer, adenovirus 5.5 days.

Stage 1

Stage 1 lasts about the first one to three days of a cold. The first symptoms after the incubation period are usually an inflammation of the throat (such as a itchy feeling in the back of the throat), followed by a sore throat. You may feel more tired than usual.

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Another early symptom is sneezing. During the first stage of a cold, you may also have a runny nose.

Once you have symptoms, you are contagious and able to spread the virus to others around you. Depending on the virus causing your symptoms, they may gradually get worse, peaking at the end of stage 1 or the beginning of stage 2.

Research shows that zinc supplements, especially when taken within the first 24 hours of symptoms, may reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the time you are ill. Over-the-counter (OTC) zinc lozenges are an option.

It’s also a good idea to increase your fluid intake as soon as you notice symptoms. Take steps, such as staying home and practicing hand hygiene, to prevent spreading your illness to others.

second stage

Stage 2 includes the fourth to seventh days of a cold. Many people find that their symptoms get worse and peak in stage 2.

It’s not uncommon for a sore throat to go away soon after it starts. You may have a fever, but this is more common in children than adults, and rhinovirus infections are rare.

Your snot may thicken and change color. If left uncontrolled, severe congestion can lead to complications of the common cold, such as a middle ear infection or sinus infection. Pneumonia is another complication of the common cold that can occur.

Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen can be used to control fever, but if your temperature is too high (above 101 degrees Fahrenheit) you should contact a health care professional.

You should also contact a healthcare professional if you suspect an ear infection or sinus infection, as these may be secondary bacterial infections that require antibiotics.

Decongestants or over-the-counter cough and cold medicines may help relieve symptoms in adults, but research suggests they may not be helpful in children. Therefore, please consult your pediatrician before giving it to your child. Increasing fluid intake and using a cool-mist humidifier can also relieve congestion.

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As long as you have symptoms, you can still pass the cold virus on to others. To avoid spreading the disease, stay home, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands often.

The third phase

The third stage is from the seventh day of the cold until the symptoms disappear. You may feel back to normal after the seventh day, but some symptoms may persist for up to three weeks.

The overall duration of illness is highly variable, depending on the virus, your underlying health condition, and your immune response. Regardless, your symptoms should gradually improve until they finally resolve.

A small number of people who recover from a cold virus develop what is known as a post-infection cough. This is a persistent cough that lasts more than three to eight weeks after an upper respiratory viral infection.

The processes that lead to post-infection cough are not fully understood. It is thought to be associated with excessive inflammation and mucus production during colds.sometimes Bordetella pertussis Infection is the cause of cough after infection.

People who cough after infection are usually not contagious as long as other symptoms subside, but your healthcare professional should check for persistent coughs to rule out pneumonia, another complication of the cold virus.


The common cold lasts 7 to 10 days and goes through three stages. An incubation period of one to several days is followed by the first stage of symptoms.

During the second stage, from the fourth to the seventh day, symptoms worsened and peaked. The third stage is after the seventh day and symptoms are relieved, although some may last up to three weeks.

VigorTip words

Cold viruses and other respiratory infections are among the most common. You can reduce the number of colds by practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently and not sharing food or drinks with others.

You can keep your immune system healthy by exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy, balanced diet. Reducing stress is another great way to boost your immunity.

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If you are unfortunate enough to catch a cold, taking care of yourself is the key to a quick recovery. Drink plenty of fluids, get rest, and consult a healthcare professional if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does the common cold last?

    There is an old saying: come in three days, be here in three days, and leave in three days. Colds last seven to ten days on average.

    The first stage can last one to three days and symptoms develop gradually. The second stage also lasts about three days, when symptoms peak. The final stage, when symptoms begin to subside, can last a few days, but it can also last a few weeks, depending on your immune system.

    But generally speaking, three days to come, three days to be here, three days to go is the normal course of a common cold.

  • Can you shorten the duration of a cold?

    maybe. Studies show that zinc can reduce the duration of a cold by about one-third. Taking high doses of vitamin C can also shorten the duration of a cold. Research shows that consuming 1,000 to 2,000 mg of vitamin C per day can reduce the duration of colds in adults by about 14%. It can also make symptoms less severe.

    Echinacea, black elderberry syrup, beetroot juice, and probiotic drinks may also help reduce the duration and severity of colds, but more research is needed to confirm these effects.

  • How can you tell the difference between a cold and COVID-19?

    There is a lot of overlap between the common cold and COVID-19. In fact, before the pandemic, coronavirus strains were sometimes the cause of the common cold. As COVID-19 evolves into different variants, the common symptoms and course of illness have also changed. Some COVID variants act like the common cold.

    The only way to know the difference between a cold and COVID-19 is to test positive for COVID on a home rapid test or PCR lab test.