What Are the Four Stages of a Cold?

Reviewed on 8/25/2021

The common cold causes symptoms such as a runny and stuffy nose and cough, and typically lasts 7 to 10 days. The stages of a cold include the incubation period, appearance of symptoms, remission, and recovery.
The common cold causes symptoms such as a runny and stuffy nose and cough, and typically lasts 7 to 10 days. The stages of a cold include the incubation period, appearance of symptoms, remission, and recovery.

The common cold is a mild upper respiratory infection caused by viruses. Common colds are the most frequent acute illness in the U.S. and the industrialized world, and occur more frequently in winter and spring, but they can occur any time of year. 

Common Cold Symptoms and Duration

A cold usually lasts about 7 to 10 days, but some symptoms, especially runny and stuffy nose and cough, can last for up to 2 weeks. A cold usually progresses through certain stages. The stages of a cold include four stages, as described in the table below.

The Four Stages of a Cold Chart
Stage Symptoms
Stage 1: Incubation period
  • This is the time between infection with a cold virus and the appearance of symptoms
  • This stage lasts anywhere from 12 hours to up to three days

Stage 2: Appearance and progression of symptoms

  • Symptoms of a cold appear and usually peak within one to three days and may include: 
    • Sore throat
    • Runny nose
    • Stuffy nose
    • Coughing
    • Sneezing
    • Headaches
    • Body aches
    • Post-nasal drip
    • Watery eyes
    • Feeling unwell (malaise)
    • Fever (more common in children) 

Stage 3: Remission

  • Symptoms start to lessen and eventually go away, within 3 to 10 days
Stage 4: Recovery
  • Some lingering symptoms may be present for up to 2 weeks, but are mild and a person generally feels back to normal or close to it

What Causes a Cold?

More than 200 viruses are known to cause the common cold, but the most common type are rhinoviruses. Adenoviruses and enteroviruses are other common viruses that can cause the common cold.

Risk factors for catching a cold include:

  • Close contact with someone who has a cold
  • Season: certain viruses are more common during certain times of year
  • Age: infants and young children have more colds each year than adults

How Is a Cold Diagnosed?

The common cold is diagnosed based upon a history of the patient’s reported symptoms and a physical examination. 

Testing is not usually needed to diagnose a common cold. 

Tests may be used to rule out other infections that cause similar symptoms to the common cold:

  • Nasal swab testing for coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
  • Rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs) or rapid molecular assays for the flu (influenza)
  • Chest X-rays for lower respiratory tract infection 

What Is the Treatment for a Cold?

There is no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics do not help treat colds caused by viruses. 

Home remedies are usually used to help relieve symptoms of the common cold, such as: 

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • A humidifier or cool mist vaporizer to moisturize the air 
  • Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower
  • Saline nasal spray or drops to moisten nasal passages
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to relieve symptoms 
  • Lozenges to relieve sore throat (do not give lozenges to young children as they can be a choking hazard)

QUESTION

The common cold is one of the most common illnesses in the world. See Answer

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Reviewed on 8/25/2021
References
https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/the-common-cold-in-adults-diagnosis-and-clinical-features?search=common%20cold&source=search_result&selectedTitle=2~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=2#H11414528