Is It Normal for Cold-like Symptoms to Last for Weeks?

Is It Normal for Cold-like Symptoms to Last for Weeks?
  • As COVID, influenza, RSV, and the common cold increase this time of year, it can be hard to decipher which is which.
  • Cold-like symptoms are common for viruses.
  • Experts share over-the-counter remedies for cold-like symptoms and when it’s time to see a doctor.

With an increase in hospitalizations associated with COVID-19, the flu, and RSV, people may experience lingering cold-like symptoms due to these illnesses.

“All of these respiratory viruses present in a similar fashion. It can be very hard to differentiate between any of them without testing. They can all be mistaken for one another; they can all be mistaken for the common cold,” Dr. Linda Yancey, infectious diseases specialist at Memorial Hermann Hospital, told Healthline.

Because COVID-19, the common cold, and the flu have many similar symptoms, like runny noses, sore throats, coughs, fatigue, and muscle aches, Dr. Jay W. Lee, a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians, reiterated that it is common for people to confuse them.

Lee explained some differences between each illness:

  • Cold symptoms are generally milder than the flu and can develop slowly.
  • Flu symptoms are typically more severe but include similar symptoms in addition to chills, sweat, and a fever.
  • RSV may cause runny nose, cough, sneezing, reduced appetite, and, in young kids, irritability, lack of energy, and difficulty breathing.
  • Loss of taste or smell are unique and more common with COVID-19.
  • Unlike RSV and colds, the flu and COVID-19 may also bring on some gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

How long do cold-like symptoms last?

Cold symptoms typically take one to three days to develop and can last up to 10 days.

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“I know it’s not ideal, but your body is working to fight off infection,” Lee told Healthline. “If you find yourself not getting enough rest or staying hydrated, cold symptoms can linger longer. Your body needs an ample amount of rest and fluids to fight off a cold or other infection.”

Congestion and coughing can often persist once other symptoms like sore throat and runny nose have cleared up, added Yancey.

If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, it’s time to see your doctor, who can diagnose your illness and determine whether there’s an underlying issue or if treatment is needed.

“If a fever is persistent and greater than 102 or not responding to fever reducers, or a cough progresses to trouble breathing, make an appointment with your family doctor,” said Lee.

He noted that people with chronic health conditions may find themselves more vulnerable to complications from colds and should talk with their doctor as soon as symptoms start or if they know they have been exposed to an illness.

“We know it can be difficult to differentiate between a cold and other similar illnesses, but patients should monitor their symptoms and talk to their family doctor if they’re concerned or have questions,” said Lee.


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