Sofie Wise

Anjali Dixit

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About Author — Dr. Anjali attended Stanford University and is continuing her training in anesthesiology at UCSF. She has a background in public health and an interest in how technologies can shape U.S. healthcare.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog.

Nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, a sore throat, feeling feverish and crummy – who hasn’t experienced these symptoms? The common cold is unfortunately hard to avoid, and even adults come down with this viral infection at least a couple times a year. The good news is that the vast majority of people with a cold will get better within two weeks without any specific treatment. Some may have a cough that lasts for up to two months after the other symptoms have disappeared; this is called a post-viral cough and also will usually disappear on its own.

You wake up with a sore throat and runny nose and later realize you’re coughing and sneezing to boot. Add in aches and pains and you’re set for a day in bed. You’ve got it – the common cold. So, how do you know when rest and hydration won’t be enough and when it’s time to seek help from an expert? Read on to find out!

Symptoms of a Cold

A cold is caused by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. There are many different viruses which can cause a cold and, unfortunately, it’s very contagious making it easily spread from one person to another. The common cold is the main reason that children and adults miss school and work. And there’s a reason it’s earned the title “common”. According to the CDC, an adult will have 2 to 3 colds per year on average and a child may have even more. Most people catch a cold in the winter or spring, but it is possible to catch a cold any time of the year.

Symptoms of the common cold usually include:

● Sore throat
● Cough
● Runny nose
● Sneezing
● Body aches
● Headaches

A high fever is not common with a cold, so if you have a fever, you may have a more serious condition such as the flu.

Symptoms of a cold usually begin about 2 to 3 days after being exposed to a sick person and tend to last 7 to 10 days. Treatment for a cold usually includes rest and increased fluids. Antibiotics are ineffective because a cold is caused by a virus and antibiotics only fight bacteria. Over-the-counter medications can help to ease the symptoms of a cold, but cannot shorten the time of illness.

When to See a Doctor for a Cold

Although a cold will usually go away on its own, it is possible for complications to arise, especially for those with weakened immunity, asthma, or an existing respiratory condition. You should see a doctor if:
● Complications arise such as bronchitis or pneumonia
● Symptoms are severe or odd
● Symptoms are not improving after 10 days
● You have trouble breathing or are experiencing chest pain
● You experience severe pain upon swallowing

If you are experiencing any of these complications, it may be time to seek help from a doctor. If you’re not feeling well enough to venture out of the house, consider giving a Plushcare doctor a try right from the comfort of your own home!

Simply create a profile, book an appointment, and talk to a doctor on your phone, tablet or computer.

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