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The cold is an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) and it affects most adults around two to four times a year.
Fortunately, the common cold is usually a mild illness that will resolve without intervention over several days.
Most people will be able to recover from a cold with self-care treatments, and you should generally be able to carry on with your normal activities.
Here you’ll find the symptoms of a cold, how long a cold lasts, how long a cold is contagious, when to see a doctor, and treatment and self-care measures, so you can decide whether or not to go to work with a cold.
Common symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection include:
You can sometimes develop a headache and fever as well.
In adults, a common cold will normally last around seven to fourteen days and it’s not unusual to have a mild cough for up to three weeks. You will usually feel at your worst two or three days into a cold. However, this can differ from person to person.
Lifestyle factors can influence how long a cold will last. For example, people who smoke are more likely to have a slower recovery; they are also more at risk of developing complications.
Pre-existing conditions can also affect how long a cold will last. You are more likely to develop complications if you suffer from certain pre-existing conditions, including but not limited to:
You should see your doctor if you think you are developing complications, or if your symptoms don’t improve within three weeks.
A cold is contagious from a few days before your symptoms start until all of your symptoms have gone. This is because it takes a few days to develop symptoms after you have been infected with a virus which causes the cold.
A cold is the most contagious when your symptoms are at their worst (usually day two or three).
It’s hard to avoid being infected with a cold because there are so many viruses which cause it, and a lot are in the air which everyone is exposed to.
However, there are some things you can do to try and prevent the cold from spreading, such as:
Currently there is no medication that is known to relieve a cold, and your body can usually fight off a cold without medical intervention.
Since the cold is caused by a viral infection, taking antibiotics won’t have any impact and could cause side effects. Instead, try the following self-care measures:
These simple methods may help relieve your cold symptoms, but sometimes self-care measures are not enough. But do you ever need to see a doctor about a cold?
As mentioned above, a cold will not respond to antibiotics and it can usually be treated at home with self-care measures. However, please visit your doctor if:
If you feel able and you don’t have any complications, there is usually no reason to take time off work.
However, if you work with people who are at a greater risk from a cold (e.g. children and the elderly) then you may decide to stay home.
If you do go to work, take precautions to prevent the spread of the infection. Make sure you are washing your hands regularly, try not to share towels, and avoid direct personal contact.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.