How Long Does A Cold Last?

  • Save

According to Affinity Health the common cold, a prevalent respiratory illness, affects millions worldwide each year. “The common cold can be a disruptive and uncomfortable illness, but it’s crucial to remember that it is usually a self-limiting condition,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“By practising good hygiene, getting adequate rest, and using appropriate symptom-relieving measures, individuals can help minimise the impact of the cold on their daily lives.” 

What is a Cold? 

A cold, also referred to as an upper respiratory tract infection, is an illness caused by several different viruses. The most common type of virus responsible for colds is rhinovirus. However, other viruses, such as coronavirus and adenovirus, can also contribute to cold symptoms.

When a person contracts a cold virus, it primarily affects the nose and throat, causing inflammation and irritation. 

The typical cold symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough, mild headache, and sometimes low-grade fever. These symptoms usually develop one to three days after exposure to the virus and can last for about a week.

Colds are highly contagious and can quickly spread from person to person. The virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets released when an infected individual coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can be inhaled by people nearby, leading to infection. 

Additionally, the virus can spread indirectly by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus and then touching the face, mouth, or nose.

“It’s important to note that the common cold is different from the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus and typically presents with more severe symptoms,” adds Hewlett. 

“If you have concerns about your symptoms or if they worsen, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.”

Prevalence in South Africa and Worldwide 

The common cold is a global health concern, and South Africa is no exception. The prevalence of colds in South Africa mirrors that of other countries, with a significant number of cases reported annually. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults can expect to experience two to four colds annually, while children may experience even more. These figures highlight the widespread nature of the common cold and its impact on individuals of all ages.


Although cold symptoms can vary from person to person, they typically resolve within seven to 10 days.

However, it is essential to note that certain factors, such as a weakened immune system or underlying health conditions, can prolong the duration of the illness.

Treatment Options 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold, as viral infections cause it. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections and should not be used to treat colds unless a secondary bacterial infection is present. 

However, several management strategies can help alleviate symptoms and promote recovery.

These include:
  • Rest: Getting plenty of rest allows the body to divert energy towards fighting the infection.
  • Hydration: Staying well-hydrated helps thin mucus secretions and prevents dehydration.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Non-prescription cold remedies, such as decongestants and pain relievers, can temporarily relieve symptoms like congestion and sore throat. It is necessary to carefully follow the instructions and consult a healthcare professional if in doubt.
  • Saline nasal rinses: Nasal saline rinses can help clear nasal passages and alleviate congestion.
  • Warm fluids: Drinking warm liquids, such as herbal teas or broths, can soothe a sore throat and provide comfort.
  • Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water can help relieve congestion and ease breathing.