The Common Cold

A common cold is a mild viral infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, sinuses, and upper airway). Common symptoms include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and sore throat. Most diagnoses are based on your reported symptoms. Treatment includes rest and taking an over-the-counter cold medicines.

Key Terms

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long is a cold contagious?

    People are most contagious with the common cold for the first two to four days after they develop symptoms. However, it’s possible to spread the virus for up to three weeks. Children are generally more contagious than adults. Cold viruses are most often spread by droplets expelled when you sneeze or cough.

  • How long does a cold last?

    How long a cold will last is unpredictable. Most colds last between seven and 10 days. However, it’s possible for them to last anywhere from two days to two weeks. Symptoms usually peak in one to three days, although a cough may linger. If your symptoms persist for an especially long time, or they continue to get worse, see your doctor. You may have something more serious than a cold.

  • How is a cold treated?

    While there’s no cure for the common cold, you have a lot of options for managing symptoms, including:

    • Pain relievers/fever reducers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen)
    • Decongestants (pseudoephedrine)
    • Nasal sprays and saline drops
    • Vitamins and herbal remedies
    • Rest

    Cough suppressants have been found to provide little relief from coughs associated with the common cold.

  • What’s best to eat when you have a cold?

    Certain foods contain vitamins and nutrients that may boost your immune system and help you fight a cold, including:

    • Vitamin C (citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli)
    • Vitamin E (almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds)
    • Zinc (oysters, baked beans, cashews, raisin bran)
    • Carotenoids (carrots, kale, spinach, apricots, mango)
    • Omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish, flaxseed, chia seeds)
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Grief SN. Upper respiratory infections. Prim Care. 2013;40(3):757-770. doi:10.1016/j.pop.2013.06.004

  2. DeGeorge KC, Ring DJ, Dalrymple SN. Treatment of the common cold. Am Fam Physician. 2019;100(5):281-289.

Additional Reading
  • National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Viral Infections. MedlinePlus. Updated October 19, 2020.