Stages of a Cold: Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment

Middle aged woman who is blowing her nose and sick at Christmas time 


A Common Cold Guide

The common cold is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs.

In addition to sneezing and coughing, common cold symptoms can include a sore throat, runny nose, stuffy nose, and headache.

The best way to prevent yourself from getting a cold is by washing your hands frequently and staying hydrated. This helps keep germs away and prevent them from being passed on to others.

In the winter, colds can become widespread. Viruses, bacteria, or allergens in the air can trigger it. In addition, a lot of research shows people tend to catch more colds during the colder seasons.

Below is more information about the common cold.


Prevention: Which Activity Will Best Help Prevent the Common Cold?

There are a variety of activities that can help to prevent the common cold. Some of the most effective include getting adequate rest and sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and minimizing stress levels.

Get Sleep: In addition to getting ample rest and sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and minimizing stress levels, other activities can help to prevent the common cold.

Exercise: For instance, regular physical activity is important for strengthening the immune system and protecting against cold viruses. Exercise helps to boost the body's production of antibodies, which are necessary for fighting off infections. In addition, regular exercise can help to reduce stress levels, which is another key factor in cold prevention.

Avoid Others Who Are Sick: Avoidance is often the best medicine. If you have kids with a cold, this is often not an option for you. However, you can make an effort to avoid friends, co-workers, or relatives with colds or other infectious illnesses.  

Wash Your Hands: Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds helps to remove germs and other contaminants that can cause colds.

Clean with Disinfectants: It's also important to keep surfaces clean by regularly disinfecting them. Following these preventive steps can reduce your risk of contracting the common cold.

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What are the Stages of the Common Cold? 

1. Getting the Cold: How Is it Spread

The Common Cold Is Airborne: The virus can be transmitted through droplets that are close to a person’s mouth or nose. It can also spread quickly throughout a room if somebody who is sick sneezes or coughs without covering their nose and mouth. A person can also get the common cold if someone blows their nose improperly.

The cold typically spreads through sneezing, coughing, and other contact between people. It can also be spread by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your nose. Some viruses that cause a cold may remain active on surfaces for as long as 48 hours, so it's important to wash your hands regularly.

2. Incubation Time for a Cold

The incubation time for a cold can vary depending on the type of cold that you have. In general, most people will start to feel the symptoms of a cold within 24 hours after exposure to a virus or bacterial infection that caused it.

The symptoms generally last anywhere from five to seven days and often include coughing, sneezing, and sore throat.

3. How Long Will a Person Have Symptoms?

The duration of a cold varies depending on various factors, such as the person’s age and overall health. Generally, a person may be sick with the common cold for between 3-10 days before they begin to recover.

Young children and older adults experience more severe symptoms than others and are typically sick with the cold for extended periods.

People with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions may experience a cold that lasts longer than average.

If you notice any symptoms that seem concerning or don’t improve after several days, you must talk to your healthcare provider for further recommendations.

4. No Longer Contagious

People are no longer contagious when signs of a cold go away. Symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, and cough generally last seven to ten days.

But if your symptoms persist, see your doctor so that you can get a proper diagnosis and begin treatment.

You should also consult your doctor if you have any underlying health problems that might be affected by the cold.

It is important to remember that you can only become contagious while you are experiencing symptoms, so if you are feeling better and have no lingering symptoms, you do not need to worry about spreading your cold further.


What is RSV?

When to Take a Baby with RSV to the Hospital 

RSV, or Respiratory syncytial, is a common respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat, and lungs and can be confused with the common cold. 

Read More

Treating a Cold

Antibiotics Won’t Treat Your Cold

Antibiotics are not effective against colds because a cold is a virus; antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, which a cold is not.

Antibiotics are typically prescribed for individual strains of infection. With the cold, there are so many strands of the virtus, it’s impossible to find one antibiotic to fight them all.

This means there Isn’t a cure for the common cold.

Colds are caused by various viruses that constantly mutate and evolve. These highly adaptable viruses can quickly change their structure to become resistant to medications or prevent the immune system from attacking them.

One of the main reasons we are not immune is that it is caused by a wide variety of viruses. Each virus has its unique structure and function, which means that our immune system may be able to recognize one strain or type of virus, but not all of them.

That’s also why there is not a common vaccine available and why antibiotics don’t work for the cold. We will never have immunity to the common cold because it is always changing.

What medications can help fight against the cold?

There are a variety of medications that can help treat the symptoms of a cold, including decongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers.

Decongestants can help relieve inflammation and mucus buildup in the nasal passages. Antihistamines can help relieve allergies and other irritations caused by colds.

Using a nasal spray can help fight against a runny nose when a person has the common cold.

A neti pot can treat symptoms of a runny nose caused by the common cold.

There are limited side effects to cold medicine.

Symptoms of the Common Cold

What happens to your body when you have a cold?

When you have a cold, your body’s immune system responds to the virus that causes the infection. The classic symptoms of a cold include:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Mucus
  • Nasal congestion

The symptoms are caused by inflammation in the areas where the virus has entered your body.

The blood vessels in your body will dilate, allowing for more blood to flow into areas that bring more white blood cells in to fight against the virus.

Can a common cold increase your heart rate?

Yes, a common cold can increase your resting heart rate. This is because the body responds to infection by producing hormones that can lead to an increased heart rhythm.

A common cold can increase your heart rate because the symptoms of a cold can cause stress and anxiety, which then causes an increase in your heart rate.

Other factors contributing to an increased heartbeat when you have a cold are dehydration, fatigue, or overheating.

Do people die from the common cold?

The common cold does not cause death. While some persons may develop pneumonia and other respiratory infections, most adults will recover from a bout of the common cold with no long-term health effects.